"One less turnover.
One more block.
One more rebound and we have a totally different record.
Our record is what it is and we're playing the way we are but we need to change it."
- Ian Hummer
Unfortunately, a nagging feeling will pervade Princeton basketball games for the remainder of 2012-13 until there is a reason for it not to.
Like an increasingly uncomfortable itch on the back of your head that no amount of scratching can rectify, the prevailing sense that a lead of any size at any juncture could dissipate will loom.
A season that has already seen the 3-6 Tigers let an 18 point advantage with 13 minutes to go versus Northeastern get away, a 38-31 edge in the final 5:10 at Wagner disintegrate into overtime and a contest they led for 32 minutes of by as many as 13 turn Drexel’s way late found a new manner to deliver agony as a one win Fordham squad came from 10 points down in the final three minutes to further traumatize Princeton, 63-60.
“I am very surprised at this group and what happens to us at the end of games,” admitted head coach Mitch Henderson. “It is concerning and it starts from within. We have to change it.”
What made this loss especially agonizing was that a second half tactical decision on Henderson’s part started a 12-0 run that seemed to have provided Princeton with what should have been enough to secure the victory.
The rest of this recap plus postgame audio from Henderson, Hans Brase & Ian Hummer can be found after the jump.
Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson Hans Brase & Ian Hummer:
Using a center-less lineup built around the freshman forward Brase in the post, Princeton recorded 12 straight points to turn a 43-42 Rams edge with 9:05 showing into a ostensibly comfortable Tiger advantage.
Leading by 10 with the ball and three minutes to go Princeton somehow let yet another stretch run lead get away.
The Tigers had four turnovers entering the final 5:09 but gave the ball up seven times to close versus upgraded Fordham pressure.
Branden Frazier scored 13 straight for the Rams as he propelled his team back into consideration. Following a missed Clay Wilson front end of a one-and-one with :25.2 showing and Princeton up one – the third time this year a late free throw has severely hampered Tiger prospects - Frazier ran the clock down, entered the lane and dished to big man Ryan Canty for a Fordham lead.
Hummer was able to attack from half court to the rim but left a right hand layup short with just over a second left and a turnaround attempt by Hummer at the top of the arc with time expiring landed like Princeton's hope of victory - just shy of the mark.
Hummer had 18 points and seven rebounds in defeat. Will Barrett added 13.
Frazier scored 17 of his 19 in the second half, 13 of which came in the final 2:58. Canty had 15 rebounds to go with his 12 points.
“I feel like for us this a broken record,” Henderson stated befittingly. “A very difficult loss for us. Down the stretch we couldn’t handle pressure. We made some really, really poor decisions. We’re reeling a little bit right now.”
Until the last third of the game where Princeton took control only to see Fordham shock them in the final chapter, the curtain jerker of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival tripleheader was exceptionally close. It took over 13 minutes of action before either team could create a two possession lead and neither side’s advantage exceeded four.
In the second half that was again the case until what should have been the Tigers’ deciding run.
Backing up to the opening tip, Princeton scored on four straight possessions following Barrett’s missed three behind a Denton Koon screen but could not find much in the way of defensive stops.
Fordham prospered because of the return of senior forward Chris Gaston who was in the starting lineup following almost a month out due to knee surgery. Gaston had half of his team’s points as play opened 8-8.
The Tigers were getting decent looks versus the Rams’ zone. Hummer split a pair at the line breaking with Koon after a steal. Brendan Connolly overloading at the free throw line found Koon on the baseline who was fouled and converted both attempts, drawing a second personal on Bryan Smith in the process.
A skip from Hummer to Barrett camped out for three was answered by two Gaston free throws and Hummer pulling up strong in the lane was countered by Gaston driving at Connolly.
Neither team could create any separation. It was 11-10 Fordham when a posting Ryan Rhoomes nicely set up a cutting Gason out of the post on a drive. Connolly returned the favor by lowering his shoulder and hooking one home.
When Clay Wilson entered off the bench all Fordham reserves were aware of this fact, screaming “shooter!” every time he touched the ball.
Chris Clement also saw the floor and as Hummer drew the defense Clement was alone up top for a three he could not toss in. Clement is shooting 18.8% from three point range on the year.
Jeffrey Short’s line drive triple came low off the rim and through two sets of Princeton hands, giving Mandell Thomas a short jumper.
One thing the Tigers did very well offensively was “triangle passing” combinations between a trio of players for a nice look. Darrow to Brase on the block to Hummer cutting evened the score at 15.
Gaston went to the glass at Brase and Mack Darrow’s three on the right wing sailed long. Darrow played four minutes in the first half but only entered the back stanza for Princeton’s final play. Frazier in the lane came up short and Clement saw the paint open for a drive but by the time he reached the rim Canty was in position to take the easy charge.
Bray was beaten backdoor by Frazier who laid in a Gaston feed for his first points to finally make it a two possession differential with 6:29 showing.
Princeton responded rapidly. Hummer to his left got a drive to roll off the side of the rim and in. A cutting Barrett was rewarded by Connolly with a bounce pass. Following a Gaston miss that nicked the rim thrice Bray cut and was undercut by Gaston, scoring as Gaston picked up his second personal. A Bray free throw made it 22-19 Tigers.
A contested three from Frazier at the top of the arc was short and Barrett with freedom came up long from the same spot at the opposite end. In transition Travion Leonard drew Fordham within one.
Bray finding Wilson on the right side not only was a pure three but also Princeton’s first bench points of the game. Henderson called time out with his team up four and 3:01 left in the half.
When play resumed Bobby Garbade had replaced Connolly on the floor, the first time Garbade had seen minutes of importance as a Tiger.
Leonard scored inside over Koon and after Koon was blocked by Leonard a tipped pass still found Smith on the right side for a three that immediately went up and in.
Barrett spotted Garbade alone inside and as Garbade went up his first basket of the season was goaltended.
Smith drove with no help defense coming but missed his layup try anyway. Bray looked to answer with a floater that could have been ruled either a shot or a pass but I think the officials did the right thing in labeling his motion the latter. Bray made the front of his one-and-one but missed the second.
Short from the far corner came up short of the rim and what could have been quite the story for Garbade setting up on the left wing for three floated a touch long. Short tried again at the horn from the far corner a second time but was blocked by the side of the backboard.
So a close half ended with Princeton up 28-26. The Tigers made 10-24 attempts (41.7%), 2-11 threes (18.2%) and 6-9 free throws (66.7%). Princeton had seven assists against two turnovers – one Clement’s charge. Hummer’s 10 points came on 4-5 shooting.
For Fordham, who was led by Gaston with eight, the field goals were converted at a 11-27 clip (40.7%), 1-5 from three (20.0%) and 3-4 at the line (75.0%).
The close quarters continued as play resumed. Frazier got Hummer in the air with a fake but the long two he stepped into was short. Barrett had a parallel pass go through the Rams’ defense to Koon who was fouled on a lefty scoop and made both his free throws.
A backdoor from Frazier to Smith resulted in a short right baseline jumper.
One thing I really liked in the second half was how Princeton alertly found Hummer stepping into makeable two point jumpers – such as Barrett on the left elbow to Hummer on the right side for a 32-28 score.
Gaston posted Bray and was fouled, converting both chances.
Connolly’s force was short and as Gaston went the other way Barrett had no choice but to hack him.
Up by one, Bray to Hummer to Koon was blocked at the rim and Koon lowered his shoulder from under the basket for a charge. Bray up top came up short and Hummer was somehow able to tip a follow up that also missed the mark.
Gaston’s recapturing of Smith’s wild take inched Fordham back up and some wild action saw Wilson’s soft three tease in and out, Barrett steal the ball from Jermaine Myers but have his scooping coast to coast drive blocked by Myers and Barrett steal the ball right back from Gaston. Hummer ended this frenzy by traveling on a move upcourt.
Canty off the glass inside put the Rams up 35-32. Some nifty three man work from Wilson to Hummer to Brase reversing sliced two off the lead and Bray on the move found Hummer stopped for a short jumper and Princeton moved back in front.
Bray stripped Myers and dove to the floor to pick up the loose ball. An outlet to Hummer had him ahead of the pack and as he has done so many times in his four year career Hummer rose for a left-handed dunk.
Hummer came up short of the rim as he ascended and the dunk was rejected by the rim. Instead of a three point lead Thomas was off the other way. A complete turnaround was cut off by Brase, who stepped in to take a charge.
Brase, who rarely left the floor once he replaced Connolly at the 17:04 mark, leapt high in the air to tip follow a missed Hummer jumper.
Frazier’s three try was an ugly one but Canty rebounded over two Tigers and went up with a right hook. Barrett stripped Canty trying to control a Koon miss and had a big offensive putback of his own which placed Princeton in front 40-37.
Bray nearly had a steal of Canty who regained possession and went immediately to his right hook.
A pair of Frazier free throws made it Fordham by one at the 9:05 mark.
Hummer driving to his left passed forward to Wilson in front of Princeton’s bench for three. Frazier behind a screen could not respond behind the arc and Koon overloading the Fordham zone spotted Barrett on the right for three more. The lead was five and it wasn’t done growing.
Canty missed at point blank range and Koon on a cut was fouled going up. Koon missed his first free throw – just his second miss of the season – but made the second. A Gaston hook over Koon was too strong but Hummer to Brase reversing was just right.
Barrett blocked Smith deftly at the rim and Canty fouled on the rebound. When Bray set up Barrett by his team’s bench for three Fordham had no choice to call time as they had fallen down 54-43 with 5:25 to go.
To this point while Fordham had shown some token pressure they hadn’t really stayed with it as Bray, Koon and Hummer brought the ball up the floor.
Hummer had a steal but his coast to coast drive went off his body. Canty tried to answer but could not. Gaston’s follow and a foul on Koon ended a 5:38 stretch without a field goal for Fordham.
Koon inside at an awkward angle on the right block could not complete an inbounds pass from Bray. The ball was tied up on the floor, staying with Princeton. A posting Hummer lost possession off his legs.
Went Brase glided across the lane and scored off the glass with his left hand the lead was 56-46 and while the Tigers had two turnovers in the previous minute there was no need to panic. Who could have known that would be Princeton’s final field goal?
Canty spun off his man but his attempted one hand throwdown was loudly sent out of bounds off the far side of the iron. A bad outlet pass from Hummer was a rare miscue to this point. Frazier drove for two and Brase was immediately tied up and stripped by Gaston. Frazier scored again and it was quickly 56-50.
Another uncharacteristic pass, this from Bray, went to Gaston but the senior’s reverse was short. The ball clearly went out off of Koon but possession was still provided to Princeton.
When Bray was cut off at half court with :27 on the shot clock and 2:15 to go Henderson immediately called time out.
Barrett went across the lane to Brase posting, who traveled. The turnover did not come against the pressure but it was just as costly. Frazier’s lefty scoop made it 56-52.
Hummer was fouled on a cut and while he could not finish – doing a 360 degree spin out of frustration instead – he righted himself at the line with a pair of makes.
Frazier continued to attack and was undercut by Brase on a drive, converting twice.
Henderson went to Clement off the bench in place of Koon to try and steady the backcourt but Clement lost the ball off his foot, was tied up and possession stayed with the Tigers.
Again Princeton beat the pressure but Barrett to a cutting Koon saw the sophomore shuffle his feet into a traveling violation. It wasn’t the press, but it was the pressure of the situation.
Frazier drove at Brase in slow motion and was fouled, drawing his team within two at the line.
Fordham coach Tom Pecora wanted his team to put Hummer at the line and they did with :34.6 remaining. Both sides of Hummer’s one-and-one did not touch the rim, making it 60-56.
As the Rams came up the floor Frazier opted not to drive and instead sized a jumper on the left side over Koon from deep. It was only Fordham’s second three of the game in 10 attempts.
Wilson was tripped up in the backcourt with :25.2 showing, the Rams’ ninth personal. Wilson is trusted enough by Henderson that in the previous game when a technical was called on the Drexel bench Wilson took the attempts but on this day Wilson’s front end of a one-and-one went long. Those technical free throws are Wilson’s only makes of the year in four tries.
Frazier ran the clock down, got into the lane, got caught in the air - and by his own admission nearly went up and down with the ball - until he was able to lob a pass to Canty while still airborne for a layup.
Princeton had :08.1 left to try and salvage the result and Hummer at full steam from half court got past Gaston and up to the rim but his strong take did not have the desired finish.
Smith rebounded, was fouled and made both attempts.
Down three Bray’s heave to Hummer was caught as Hummer turned and fired from behind the top of the arc. It had no business being as close as it was but the jumper could only clip the front iron as well as the backboard.
“We looked like a totally different team,” a dumbfounded Hummer said of Princeton’s play the final four minutes, unable to comprehend another crushing loss.
So the Tigers have no other choice but to think about who they are and why they are at 3-6 in addition to imagining what they could be. While some have remarked at the “meaninglessness” of these non-conference games, with the exception of one of Joe Scott’s Princeton teams, rare are the Tiger squads that perform one way before conference play and transform positively versus Ivy foes to the top of the table.
That nagging feeling is looming as January 12 moves closer and that uncomfortable itch is getting more and more pronounced.
-Princeton shot 21-51 overall (41.2%), 5-20 from three (25.0%) and 13-18 at the line (72.2%). The Tigers finished with 15 assists and 11 turnovers – with seven of those coming in the last 5:09.
-Fordham made 22-55 field goals (40.0%), 2-10 threes (20.0%) and 17-19 free throws (89.5%). The Rams were shooting 64.7% from the line entering Saturday’s game.
-In his return after missing seven games Gaston tallied 16 for Fordham.
-Hummer passed Bud Haabestad into ninth in scoring at Princeton and is 13 points behind Geoff Petrie for eighth. The senior forward has 1,308 career points.
-Brase played 22 minutes and totaled eight on 4-5 shooting, a new career high.
-As Big Apple Buckets pointed out, with the exception of the trip to Syracuse, the Tigers have held at least an eight point lead in each of their eight other games.
-Fordham’s biggest advantage of the day was four points.