Despite being out-worked on the glass and frequently out-efforted for 50/50 balls, Princeton still stood within a four point shadow of Rutgers in the final six minutes of a true grind-it-out basketball game at Jadwin Gym.
On three straight possessions the Tiger defense rose to the occasion and recorded stops but the offense was unable to capitalize on the corresponding trio of trips down the floor.
“Our defense down the stretch, I was very proud of the guys and I thought we were playing hard but we just couldn’t buy a hoop,” said head coach Mitch Henderson. “We missed a couple easy shots that would have really helped.”
Just over two minutes of scoreless activity came to the close on a pair of free throws by the Scarlet Knights' Austin Johnson and in a fitting verdict-sealer Johnson won away an offensive rebound inside of a wild three point miss by Jerome Seagears and started a three point play with a layup follow.
It was shocking how dominant Rutgers stood on the glass, out-rebounding Princeton by a palindromic 42-24 margin while grabbing 11 second chances.
“It is concerning, because that’s what we want to hang our hat on this year,” Henderson acknowledged. “It is disappointing.”
Eli Carter led the way with 22 points and was the catalyst off the bench for the victors, canning four straight first half three pointers once he entered to see his squad down 10-2 early. Myles Mack added 16, also on 6-9 shooting.
For Princeton Will Barrett had 13 and Ian Hummer 10 along with six assists, four rebounds and zero turnovers. Hummer scored one point in the second half against the Rutgers zone but the Tigers had no outside support to aid Hummer's cause.
While T.J. Bray finally hit from behind the arc he remains 1-19 from deep on the season. Princeton guards combined to shoot 4-20 from the floor as a unit.
Postgame audio can be found after the jump.
Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, T.J. Bray & Ian Hummer:
While the close of the game did not unfold as the Tigers desired, the opening seven minutes were a worthy response to a difficult loss versus Northeastern the prior time out.
A designed alley oop from Bray to Hummer following the opening tip did not connect but the Tigers locked in and Rutgers’ first possession ended with a shot clock violation. In a bit of a surprise given Princeton’s shooting difficulties these first two games, Mike Rice’s team came out playing man-to-man on defense.
Hummer’s dish to Bray slashing between two defenders resulted in a foul and a pair of free throws. Mike Poole’s push shot over an extended Brendan Connolly evened the ledger.
A beauty of a pass by Hummer across his body to Barrett was rewarded with a left wing three. Less pretty was the pass by Myles Mack that Dane Miller could not control and Barrett picked up off the deck. It was Barrett’s turn to return the favor as he drove the right baseline and found Hummer setting up for his first three of the year and an 8-2 count.
The bucket moved Hummer past Steve Goodrich into 12th place on the school’s all-time scoring list.
Hummer extended the advantage to eight by following a cutting Denton Koon into the lane with the ball and stopping for a short jumper.
When Hummer went to the bench for the first time with 13:57 left in the half, the Scarlet Knights made two tactical changes. First, their defense switched to zone. Secondly, they picked up their defense full court to check Tiger guards as soon as the ball came into play.
Both would be constants the rest of the way. While Princeton had zero issues against the press, the zone caused discomfort that only increased as the game unfolded.
A zipper of a pass by Bray to Barrett resulted in Barrett being fouled by Kadeem Jack as he went up for the slam. Barrett converted both attempts.
Koon could not finish over Johnson inside and Bray tried to take a charge on Eli Carter that Carter turned into a pair of free throws.
Bray fell to 0-12 for the season outside the arc with a miss up top. Off the bench Clay Wilson was also off from deep, the possession kept alive by the ball falling to Koon and Wilson having the same result off the opposite wing.
Mack tossed in a three on the right side over the approaching Koon for a 12-8 score. While a second attempted Bray-to-Hummer alley oop was again off the mark Hummer was able to snatch the ball out of the air and find Wilson stepping in for a pure triple.
His team up 15-10, Hummer used a Mack Darrow screen to get into the lane, then spun into space and was fouled by Mack. Hummer’s free throw attempts in the first two games of the season looked uniformly nice but he missed both of these chances.
There were four straight swinging sequences that followed, momentum penduluming from side to side. Connolly could not finish right at the rim and Hummer was unable to fully grasp a dunk follow try. This resulted in a quick layup by Mack the other way.
Barrett had a super progression, sizing for three and then taking a charge as Miller tried to drive to his left.
Hummer as ballhandler broke the press and skipped a lovely pass to Chris Clement on the opposite wing for an open three that failed to connect. Moving the other way Mack attacked Clement, scoring while earning the foul.
Finally Bray on the baseline shuffled a pass to the trailing Hummer for what could have been a sensational finish had the feed been on the money. Instead the ball deflected away and Carter stopped for three and an 18-18 count with 8:02 left prior to intermission.
Clement was off with his three point try before Mack struck swiftly from deep to provide Rutgers an advantage they would never relinquish.
Hummer to a diving Connolly was blocked from behind. Hummer also had an attempt altered as he was cut off in the lane but the loose ball came back to Hummer underneath for a layin.
Trailing by four after a Carter three set up by yet another offensive board and not getting any production from either Connolly or Darrow inside, Henderson used a center-less lineup of Wilson, Koon, Bray, Barrett and Hummer for a few possessions.
Barrett had a nice feed to Koon but Koon could not flip his reverse home. After three tries off the rim, a tie up returned the ball to Rutgers. Carter slid awkwardly on a drive, traveling in the process.
Hummer went to his left with the shot clock down to one and floated in a pretty jumper to make it 24-22 RU. Carter crossed Koon and canned a shot of his own.
15 feet from the basket Hummer faked Jack in the air and was able to lean in for a whistle. For the second straight time Hummer missed both his chances at the line.
Jack was fouled by Barrett at the free throw line as he tried to form a jumper and made one of two attempts.
Approaching the half’s final minute, Clement drove to his left and was bumped by Jack, converting both sides of his one-and-one.
The furious last 60 seconds before time expired saw a driving Mack dish to Carter for three on the left wing, Clement pulling Princeton back within three on a trey from the right side assisted by Barrett and Carter launching his fourth consecutive make over Connolly’s arms as time all but expired.
“He is so quick. You never know what he is going to do,” Bray said of Carter. “There were a couple of times we messed up [the scouting report] and he killed us with it.”
Rutgers held a 33-27 advantage, their largest of the night.
Princeton shot a rough 8-25 to open (32.0%), 5-13 from three (38.5%) and 6-10 at the line (60.0%) with Hummer 0-4. The Tigers had just two turnovers versus extended defensive pressure, both belonging to Bray.
The Scarlet Knights were 10-24 overall (41.7%), a lofty 6-10 outside (60.0%) and 7-9 at the line (77.8%) including 16 from Carter off the bench. These numbers were not at all indicative of the team who entered Jadwin converting just over 60% of their free throws and 18.5% from behind the arc.
Most jarring was the 23-11 edge RU held on the glass.
On Princeton’s first possession of the second half there was immediate interior production. Hummer saw Connolly sealing his man, led him with an entry pass and Connolly wisely did not put the ball on the floor – instead turning to the basket and dunking with both hands.
Hummer’s help defense swatted what looked like a sure Poole layup off the glass. A poor Clement entry pass against the zone was picked by Judge and this time Connolly in transition could not close to block Mack’s drive.
Down 37-31 following two Carter free throws, Bray finally connected on the right side, converting a feed from Hummer out of the post. Carter could not answer and Jack pushed Koon in the back on the rebound.
Wilson’s rushed three to tie was perhaps deflected and regardless well short of the rim. Johnson left a layup short and Hummer battled down low to rip the ball into his own hands.
Hummer to Koon underneath the basket made it a one point game.
Here’s a perfect example of where Rutgers’ hustle and effort trumped Princeton’s comeback – Carter’s long two was short but Koon could not get into position to grab the rebound so the ball evaded his grasp and came back out to Carter who went left and canned his second jumper, this inside the arc on the left side.
Wilson’s deep three was errant and Miller sizzled the Tiger defense with a no-look pass that found Johnson. Princeton called time down 41-36.
When play resumed a spinning Hummer found Bray for an open three that was off once more. Mack’s runner went down to take Rutgers up seven for the first time all game.
Hummer muscling inside drew a whistle and thankfully split two free throws. After Judge’s illegal screen knocked over Bray, Barrett up top pulled Princeton back within three.
On the right wing a pass sailed through Mack’s hands for an unforced error and the Tigers had the ball with a chance to tie. That chance came in the form of an open Darrow three that sailed short.
With the shot clock low Mack hurled in a backbreaker of a three over Koon’s worthy defense to make it 46-40.
Koon got two back at the line and again Rutgers inched further in front due to work via the glass. Jack’s drive was short but Miller was fouled on a follow. Miller missed both free throws but the inability to close out a defensive possession was still noticed.
Driving to the right baseline, Wilson lost the ball straight up into the air and while Miller’s penetration was wild Jack trailing had no one check him and sailed in for the uncontested two hand slam.
A Wilson pass was over Hummer’s reach and Carter spun, slid, skidded and glided into the lane where he was fouled by Hummer on a hesitation. Two free throws increased the deficit to 50-42.
Koon’s layup was goaltended and after two near-steals by Barrett, Koon was undercut via Malick Kone and went the other way for two free throws.
Bray was blocked going right on a drive and Koon could not control a loose ball in the air. Johnson’s right hook over Connolly was no good but on an entry pass Barrett traveled.
Hummer remained on the bench as Judge hoisted an u.g.ly. hook of his own. Barrett’s big three from the left wing was off the mark and a whistle found Connolly holding away from the action on the rebound.
While the defense had tightened, Rutgers was still going to the other end for free throws by Johnson, both of which were good.
After four straight makes, Koon split a pair at the line. It was a non-impossible 52-47. Bray tiptoed the sideline to stay on the floor with a rebound after Seagears missed and Bray up top was off yet again from three. Koon could not run down a loose ball in the near corner that Seagears beat him to.
Seagears was wild from outside but Johnson broke backs with his snatch around Princeton defenders and put-back as Bray fouled him.
As Hummer and Bray both failed from the perimeter, Rutgers added two free throws to go up 10 with :27 showing. The result was decided.
It was a game where small plays exposed big problems. While the defense was markedly better than the second half versus Northeastern, Princeton showed a troubling pattern of being unable to finish off their defensive possessions.
Also of considerable concern was the lack of production from both the backcourt (4-20 shooting with one assist) and the center position (1-6 from the floor via Connolly and Darrow with just two total rebounds).
All the beautiful passes by an attention-drawing Ian Hummer are meaningless if his teammates can’t subsequently put the ball in the basket. Hummer had six assists versus zero turnovers but would have been close to double figures should a more reasonable number of shots dropped.
Mike Rice admitted after his first win facing the Tigers in three tries that his defensive gameplan "tilted the floor" towards Hummer to a degree that Rutgers had only attempted against UConn's Kemba Walker during Rice's tenure.
Without a raised level of support expect to see almost nothing but zone until the Tigers show a reason to make opposing coaching think otherwise.
-Princeton shot 15-57 from the field (31.9%), 8-26 from three (30.8%) and a deceptive 14-22 at the line (63.6%).
-Rutgers was 10-30 inside the arc (33.3%) but 7-13 outside (53.8%) for a 17-43 total (39.5%). They aided their cause with a 17-24 performance on free throws (70.8%).
-Princeton opponents are now a ludicrous 20-35 (57.1%) from three point range this season.
-The Scarlet Knights grabbed 36.7% of all their potential offensive rebounds during the game, which helped make up for twice as many turnovers committed (16) as forced (8).
-Rice credited how his team was able to win the “foot war” of positioning inside and perhaps the result in the process.