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After facing Syracuse's long and active zone defense on Wednesday, Princeton made their delight in going up against Lafayette's less-fearful man-to-man four days later apparent by opening today's game on a 19-4 run and only let their advantage drop under nine once the remaining 75%+ of the contest.
The modus operandi was to go inside, inside and inside with the ball and the Tigers scored 44 of their points in the paint with Ian Hummer recording a career high 28 on 12-16 shooting.
This gameplan also benefitted guard T.J. Bray, who continued his steady ascent to expected form with a personal best of 17 on 7-9 tries and was able to turn a number of cuts into posting opportunities versus smaller defenders. Bray also had four assists against a single turnover.
“I thought it was contagious all night,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson of his team's interior focus. “The ball kept going in there.”
The Leopards entered Saturday's game shooting 40.9% from three point range and averaging over 25 attempts. Versus a stingy and composed Tiger defense the home team opened 1-9 outside and hit a mere 20% of their 15 tries.
Will Barrett also had 13 for Princeton, who shot a season-best 58.0% from the floor. Sophomore Denton Koon recorded his first start of both the season and his career, replacing Chris Clement in the backcourt.
Playing his first game in eight days since injuring his ankle warming up at Kentucky, Australian big man Dan Trist had 10 for Lafayette - as did Tony Johnson.
The Tiger advantage apexed at 58-36 with 8:09 left to play. Princeton never trailed.
Postgame audio and the rest of this recap can be found after the jump.
Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Ian Hummer & T.J. Bray:
Brendan Connolly, who was a far more active and aggressive participant on both ends of the floor, won the game’s opening tip. His attempt to push the ball forward past Barrett went wide but Hummer was already on his way to the rim, where a charging lefty layup spun around and out.
A right wing three attempt by Joey Ptasinski over Koon came up short and Hummer spun Levi Geise left and scored inside.
Connolly tipped a post feed free and dove forward on the floor to try and grab a loose ball. While Connolly caught the sideline in front of his team’s bench looking to wrestle possession and pass to a fellow Tiger, his effort was indicative of his positive performance.
Bray set up Barrett in rhythm from the top of the key to make it 5-0.
Geise responded with a nifty jump hook over Hummer and after a poor Connolly giveaway losing the ball with far-too-great ease out of his hands under pressure Ptasinski drove and scored as Barrett looked to block from behind.
Connolly did not let one negative play get to him. He was the recipient of a long outlet and fouled on his second try, splitting a pair of free throws. The next time down the court Koon got into the lane going left and what looked like a sailing runner was actually a purposeful on-target feed to Connolly by the bucket.
“I think [the lineup change] gave us a bit of moxie today,” Henderson said about the decision to insert Koon in the starting five. “Defensively, that’s a good, long group for us.”
Lengthy help defense from Hummer created a steal of Trist on the drive and Hummer was off in the clear, able to dunk with his left hand.
Ptasinski’s pass went over its intended target and right back to Hummer who this time charged ahead, crossing over in time to beat one Lafayette defender and scoring with his left as Alan Flannigan fouled him. The three point play was a marvelous one and Princeton led 13-4.
Hummer could also be the facilitator. He found a cutting Barrett who stopped, spun clean around into the center of the lane and hooked the ball in with his right hand after shaking the defense.
Barrett’s half came to an early end at the 14:19 mark when he absorbed a drive straight into his gut and was whistled for a second personal.
Princeton ran all five players above the free throw line to let Hummer have the entire interior to post. Sealing off his man, Hummer was the recipient of a Mack Darrow leading feed for an easy layin.
When Bray posted Bryce Scott and scored off the glass it was a 19-4 ballgame and Lafayette called time.
If one of the pregame statistical storylines was Princeton’s poor perimeter defense versus the Leopards’ inability to slow interior work the open was a decisive victory in the Tigers’ favor.
Lafayette wasn’t able to get clean attempts off behind the arc and missed the only two shots they tried out there. When Ptasinski hit on the right side with 11:03 to go - set up by a Scott dish, a skip pass by Bray to Clay Wilson camped out negated those three points.
“They’re a difficult team to prepare for. They spread you out and put a lot of shooters on the floor at the same time,” Henderson acknowledged. “I was very pleased with what we were able to do defensively.”
“I think this is the kind of defensive team that we can be and also the kind of rebounding team we can be,” he added.
Trist came into Saturday averaging 23.0 points on 84% shooting in two games and the Aussie pulled his team back with an off-balance right baseline jumper and two free throws.
In between those conversions, Connolly made another hustle play worth noting. Darrow was short on a three but Connolly kept fighting for the ball on the baseline and his passion keeping possession up for grabs resulted in the Tigers’ retaining as Lafayette could not ever grasp firmly with two hands.
Hummer backed down his man and scored with a baby lefty hook to make it 24-13 but Johnson too quickly and too easily drove right for a Leopard layup.
Given the responsibility of bringing the ball up the floor one-on-one, Wilson was stripped clean by Johnson for a frustrating layup. Lafayette had drawn within seven.
Connolly went to a swooping right hook for two and while a second time was not a charm for the senior big man with his other hand some pretty inside-out passing for a full possession ended with a jump hook by Hummer.
Chris Clement did not play much, primarily spelling Bray off the bench but he did use a Connolly screen and slide slightly to his left to size a three point shot for a 31-19 count.
Bray got beat on a well designed backdoor to Seth Hinrichs and this sat so poorly with Bray that he went to the basket for a hoop and some harm. Bray’s free throw was no good but Princeton on more than one occasion today got points off of a player looking for instant, under control, icy redemption.
Johnson reversed direction to make it 33-23 and the Tigers’ final possession saw Clement’s right wing long two sail short.
While Lafayette stood within 10, the numbers painted a better picture of how the half had gone.
Princeton shot 14-28 (50.0%) and were an economical 3-5 from three (60.0%) plus 2-4 on free throws (50.0%). Hummer led all scorers with 13 plus five rebounds. The Tigers also held a 22-14 advantage on the glass.
20 minutes in the Leopards were shooting 9-28 (32.1%), 1-8 from three (12.5%) and 4-5 at the line (80.0%).
Hinrichs’ three sailed off to the left as play resumed by the rebound bounced right to Giese. Connolly stood his ground versus Trist once more and grabbed the errant attempt.
It was clear by this point that Giese was struggling trying to check Hummer and Bray found Hummer with this matchup inside. Hummer went up explosively for two to his right.
Ptasinski recorded Lafayette’s second trey on the right side for a 35-26 count but 12 of the game’s next 15 points went Princeton’s way.
Hummer was like a turntable switching speeds. 45 rpm down the right baseline, switching to 33 for a second as he switched hands and ratcheting up to 78 rpm for the quick finish off the window.
Connolly found a cutting Barrett who was impressively and unexpectedly blocked by Johnson as he went up to the rim. Like Bray in the first half, Barrett wanted the ball and a second chance right away. His drive at Hinrichs was a touch wild but the result was the one Barrett was looking for.
A loose ball rolled through Trist’s legs and Hummer led a two-on-one with Barrett, feeding his former classmate for the swooping layup.
Trist missed a jumper and the presence of Connolly drew two men, which allowed Barrett to skip a pass to Koon on the far side for the third three of the sophomore’s collegiate career.
Trist hit from the free throw line but Princeton made it four baskets in four possessions as a driving Bray found Connolly inside passing straight up to Barrett for a three from the top of the arc and a 47-29 count.
Zach Rufer had a left baseline pull up jumper, and as Scott stole the inbounds pass from Bray then was fouled by Bray, converting one of two.
Bray’s response was the act of a ticked off individual yet simultaneously completely composed. Bray saw pressure from Lafayette and kept pushing and pushing and pushing. Past midcourt, past the arc, past the lane and all the way right to the rim. Bray finished strong as Rufer fouled him for a three point play.
That’s two straight games with Bray distancing himself from the dreadful shooting in his first three contests back from summer surgery. It may not be happening as fast as Bray would like but his most recent stat lines should silence any questions about half of the Tiger backcourt.
“It has been a slow process,” Bray stated. “Getting that strength back to where I can stop on a dime has been the biggest thing to me – getting my feet beneath me. That’s starting to come back so I feel good.”
The next trip down Hummer to his right switched to his left hand in the air for a 52-32 score.
Bray and Hummer remained productive and economical. Bray bisected the lane and had a beauty of a pass to Hummer coming down the right baseline.
Barrett stole the ball on the far sideline and lofted a long outlet bomb to Hummer for a breakaway one-handed dunk.
Bray only missed two shots on the day and one – a soft push with his right hand as he entered the lane – he was able to grab flatfooted in the center of the paint and return home.
Lafayette was able to take a 22 point deficit down to 13 on a drive and free throw by Hinrichs faking from the perimeter to the hoop as Hummer went for a block of the finish but it was Bray who made sure that the lead stayed manageable.
Hummer returned the favor to Bray for a reverse and Bray pumped his fist after he scored and was bodied by Hinrichs.
Connolly’s active hands caused Scott to lose the ball and for a second time Bray just kept driving to his right from a great distance out to the glass for a 69-50 score.
In the final :34.3 Henderson was able to get Ameer Elbuluk, Mike Washington Jr. and Edo Lawrence their first varsity minutes and when Barrett intentionally grasped Rufer to stop the clock, Brian Fabrizius joined them on the floor for the first time this young season. Isaac Serwanga also entered with two seconds to go for Elbuluk, running out the clock.
Lafayette was never able to spread Princeton out and free up their shooters in the process. Connolly’s interior defense kept Trist in check and the perimeter guard failed to lose its shape.
By sticking with their game plan the Tigers were able to execute efficiently on offense and perform stoutly on defense. It wasn’t the complete 40 minute performance Hummer had been looking for after a third straight defeat up at Syracuse, but it was certainly a step trending in the right direction.
“That’s as close as we’ve gotten. We need to hit the boards and take care of the ball a little bit more,” Hummer said. “Then we’ll have a pretty good team.”
-Princeton hit 29-50 overall (58.0%), an efficient 6-10 from three (60.0%) and a meaningful 8-12 at the line (66.7%). Hummer, Bray and Barrett combined to score 58 of their team’s 72.
-The Tigers won the glass battle 39-23 with each starter snaring at least four boards.
-Princeton did have 17 turnovers with Hummer well aware that four belonged to him.
-Lafayette was 19-54 as a unit (35.2%), 3-15 from deep (20.0%) and 12-17 on free throws (70.6%).
-Hummer’s 28 points give him 1,255 for his career. Hummer passed Brian Taylor for sole possession of 11th place in Princeton scoring history and is 22 points behind Gabe Lewullis and entry into the Top 10.