It was an admirable yet error-filled performance for Princeton in front of 17,881 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse on Tuesday night.
Facing a formidable foe and a daunting zone, the Tigers fell behind 10-2 in the first four minutes as the sixth-ranked Orangemen grabbed five offensive boards. While the visitors from New Jersey trailed from pillar to post there were actually a good number of positives to take away from the lone regular season contest versus a Top 10 foe this season.
Once the ship was steadied, Princeton hung within hailing range of Syracuse, despite 14 first frame turnovers.
Down 36-25 at intermission and minus 14 with 16:45 to go, the Tigers countered with an 8-0 run to close within 45-39 on a Clay Wilson three pointer. Wilson was the perfect antidote to the SU zone, knocking in five threes on the game.
However, Syracuse quickly responded with a dunk, two layups and a put-back in the two minutes that followed to extend their lead back up to two touchdowns.
Princeton would not see a single digit deficit again and a game-closing 12-3 run over the last 5:45 generated the final score. Wilson's fifth three dropped before this spurt and was the Tigers' ultimate field goal.
In addition to Wilson, Brendan Connolly had 11 and Ian Hummer 10 for the orange and black who committed 24 turnovers. Eight of those were charged to Hummer.
“I thought at times we were OK, but there were just so many turnovers,” said Tiger head coach Mitch Henderson. “They got 19 more shots than we did. We have to be able to take better care of the ball.”
James Southerland's 22 off the bench led five Orange men with double digits. Southerland connected four times from behind the arc.
42 of Syracuse's points came in the paint and 25 of their 73 were generated via turnovers.
Postgame audio can be found after the jump.
Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Clay Wilson & Ian Hummer:
Instead of the traditional site recap, I hope you’ll humor me this Thanksgiving eve as I try a variation on a tried/true format – walking through the game’s narrative via the performances of those on the Princeton roster that took part in it.
T.J. Bray entered the evening 1-19 from three point range this season, yet made both of his first half attempts. Bray also set up Hummer for the Tigers’ initial basket, penetrating the zone from the top and dishing to a cutting Hummer for a one hand finish as he was fouled by Michael Carter-Williams. While Princeton was getting demolished on the glass early – Bray’s foul of DaJuan Coleman on an offensive rebound opened the scoring and Syracuse’s first three buckets were second chances, Bray stayed steady and with the shot clock low he stepped into a left wing three for a 10-5 score. While Bray had four turnovers he also set a new career high with seven assists.
Chris Clement did not make much of a mark versus the Orangemen but he did little to give reason to take him off the floor. Clement nicked the ball when C.J. Fair was looking to dribble behind his back and moved forward, only to lose possession off his own body trying to start a layup for a turnover. Henderson would switch out Clement and Wilson for defense and offense respectively. A touch of bad fortune struck Clement who saw one three point attempt spin three times around the rim and pop out and a second go in/out/in/out in the waning moments.
As the rebounding situation got under control, turnovers became the issue. Carter-Williams over Wilson from outside came up short but Hummer tried to force a bounce pass to Mack Darrow which was intercepted.
A Brandon Triche pass sailed over the reach of Fair yet Will Barrett had his pocket picked from behind easily by Southerland. The Syracuse game was Barrett’s first truly bad performance of the season. His passes from the wing under pressure often lacked the needed emphasis to reach teammates and Barrett was unable to find his own shot versus the SU zone. Barrett was an uncomfortable 0-2 from the floor in 19 minutes with four giveaways.
A long pass by Darrow resulted in another turnover but Triche gave the ball right back, errant on the sideline. Darrow played eight minutes off the bench and was unable to contribute statistically. I love Mack Darrow but I have no idea what his story is this year. Darrow is no longer looking for his shot out of the post and has not been able to find the space to do much in the way of distribution. Has the return of Barrett removed spaces or opportunities that Darrow could take advantage of in 2011-12? I can’t figure it out. It was unfortunately an appropriate stat line for Darrow this evening given how his season has unfolded. Zero points, one rebound, zero assists and two turnovers in eight minutes. Darrow is averaging 0.5 points per game with one single basket through four contests.
Darrow fouled Triche on a drive to his left and this extended scoreless period for both teams stopped with a pair of free throws. A 12-5 deficit quickly expanded to 20-8. Southerland stole the ball from Darrow. His long outlet to Carter-Williams was good for a layup. Wilson got Southerland in the air and regrouped, now open on the perimeter for three.
Carter-Williams responded in kind from deep and following a Hummer miscue Southerland’s shot over Hummer at the top of the arc was a thing of beauty.
Needing some aid from unexpected sources, Princeton received glimmers from Denton Koon and Connolly.
Koon looked more confident with his shot and was also able to do good work from the low right block, but there was more to Koon’s game than point blank chances at the rim. A turn and shoot jumper off the left baseline was pure.
Connolly also got involved, Hummer setting him up for a trio of buckets. Hummer at the top of the zone moved into the paint and bounced a pass to Connolly for a 22-12 count.
Hummer to Connolly flatfooted off the glass drew the Tigers within 11 and following Southerland’s left side three Connolly laid home a short lob via Hummer in the air. While he passed on an open second half jumper two straight times, Connolly also converted his third look on the right side – the sort of basket that can make him more dangerous. Connolly mixed things up inside and while his physical play resulted in a couple of +1 baskets his was certainly not passive.
Princeton came out of a stoppage in a 1-3-1 on defense and Trevor Cooney could not connect from outside against it. Hummer was stripped on a drive and Triche’s layup the other way fell short, so Southerland was able to easily dunk follow the miss with two hands as Clement chased. The Tigers were down 30-16.
Koon only made one three pointer as a freshman and it came late in his first collegiate season. His initial year two triple arrived via some around-the-zone passing as Bray fed Koon on the left side.
Each time it looked like Syracuse might be able to turn these myriad Princeton turnovers into a run that all but killed comeback chances, the Tigers struck outside. If Wilson shoots like he did against the Orangemen then there’s a chance he can force opponents back into man, a defense that is going to favor the Tigers.
While it is still unclear what Wilson can add to the Tigers beyond shooting, his five makes in nine chances outside the arc are impossible to ignore. Wilson also did not wilt versus Syracuse’s guards committing a lone turnover versus two assists in 26 minutes off the bench.
Southerland’s high arc three with Barrett out to wave at was answered by Wilson at the top of the defense for three of his own.
While Wilson from 30’ out was moderately ill-advised yet eminently makeable, Clement’s foul of Carter-Williams on the rebound three quarters of the court away from the opposing rim was a far worse decision. Carter-Williams added two free throws.
The shot clock and game clock nearly in sync, Princeton ran down time and Wilson found Bray with a sliver of space on the left wing. From deep behind the arc Bray was true and Princeton trailed 36-25 at the break.
Hummer’s play was indicative of the first half. He served many roles, from facilitator to aggressor and had an equal five assists and five turnovers to show for it while 1-3 from the field with a missed free throw.
Besides the lone trip to the line, the Tigers shot a clean 10-20 from the floor (50.0%), a tidy 5-10 from three (50.0%). Connolly, Bray and Wilson each had six. All 10 baskets came off assists. All 14 turnovers became 15 points the other way.
Southerland was 3-3 from deep and had 11 to go with five of his team’s 12 assists. It is rare that 6/7 of a team’s giveaways are courtesy steals but this was the case here.
The Orange made 13-29 field goals (44.8%), 4-9 outside (44.4%) and 6-8 free throws (75.0%). Five early offensive rebounds only became eight total come halftime.
Reviewing the start of the second half, there were moments that showed where this team is now and occasions that provided glimpses of what can eventually be. As Princeton struggles to play a complete 40 minutes the good and bad are sometimes evident in possessions abutting another.
Bray tried to dump a too-ambitious pass to Hummer inside that was easily taken out of the air. Rakeem Christmas had a nifty reverse by Connolly for a pair.
Yet there was also Hummer going aggressively to his right and floating down a beauty of a pull up jumper.
Barrett’s struggle was encapsulated by not being able to grab a defensive rebound, then being pushed out of the way with the ball coming off the glass as Coleman tipped the second try home. Barrett then was pressured on the wing facing his team’s bench and could not get a telegraphed pass out to Bray which Carter-Williams picked up and Fair turned into one of two free throws.
Hummer up top found Clement on the sideline who went into a successful running hook.
Koon replaced Barrett and continued to produce. Bray dribbling bounded a pass to Koon on a delayed cut and following a foul Koon made both free throws. Koon was 4-4 from the line for the game and is up to 9-10 as a sophomore.
Trailing 45-31 it all came together. Bray to Wilson by the Princeton bench for three. A diagonal lob by Triche to Christmas going well over the latter’s hands and out of bounds. Hummer strong inside from Bray and finishing high off the glass. Single digits for the first time since the 10:54 mark of the first half. Bray into the lane and Wilson spotting up out of the right corner for his fourth three and a six point game.
Syracuse called time and as quickly as Princeton had closed, the Orange reacted.
Again showing the 1-3-1 defensively the Tigers trapped twice on the sideline but could not come away with the ball. Instead Triche got loose and Christmas powered a dunk with two hands.
A Wilson deuce was short and Triche swooped and scooped around Darrow for two The crowd awakening, Hummer traveled and Carter-Williams lobbed a pass to Baye Moussa Keita against the Princeton zone.
Down 14, Koon continued to show productive signs. Sure, he missed a one-handed dunk alone down the right baseline that would have bettered both his night and the evening of Darrow in the lane making the pass but it was from this spot that Koon was most comfortable. Bray in the lane slid a pass to Koon for two free throws and Koon would finish with nine points overall.
Koon might have added an assist to his line if his alley-oop to Hummer had not been blocked by Keita mid-air at the rim. A Southerland drive, a Southerland finish fouled by Bray and a following free throw that touched the rim seven times before dropping down and it was 58-43.
The outcome inevitable, Henderson used the final four minutes to get Hans Brase experience versus top-flight competition and while Brase did not score he followed a very tentative possession in the center of the Syracuse zone with an aggressive attack of the rim. Brase is nothing if not active with the ball hanging in the air.
Bobby Garbade also saw the floor for the first time this season and played competent post defense trying to stop Coleman down low. It was a nice reward for the New York State native playing in front of 30+ friends and relatives.
The final score would also be Syracuse's largest lead of the night. After the loss, Henderson and Hummer both discussed Princeton’s difficulty to put a complete 40 minutes together across their first four games of the season. There’s a feeling that a full game is coming, even if that might not be evident in either a 20 point loss or a 1-3 record.
Still, I walked out of the Carrier Dome thinking that there was enough seen to portend a turnaround. At the very least the court is going to look a whole lot larger at Lafayette on Saturday afternoon without Syracuse playing their swinging, sprawling zone on top of it.
-Princeton hit 17-38 attempts (44.7%), a very nice 8-18 from three (44.4%) and 11-13 at the line (84.6%). Before missing their final four tries the Tigers were shooting 50% for the game.
-Syracuse was 27-57 overall (47.4%) and 5-16 from three (31.3%), hitting 14-20 free throws (70.0%). Fair scored 12 while Christmas, Carter-Williams and Triche each had 10.
-The Orange recorded 19 steals, five of which were Southerland’s.
-I’m sure for many in attendance the most memorable moment of the evening was a “Kiss Cam” proposal that came with 3:49 left in the first half. As a ring was presented and accepted, several thousand people rose to a standing ovation.
-Want to confirm or deny my words? Catch a rebroadcast of tonight’s game on SNY tomorrow at 2:00 pm ET.