Mitch Henderson couldn't remember if he had talked to freshman forward Hans Brase during the latter's recruitment about the possibility of playing center at Princeton.
After Brase's performance 10 games into his career replacing veteran big man Brendan Connolly in the lineup it is hard to imagine him anywhere else.
With a 3-6 record buoyed by a trio of dissipated second half leads, Princeton badly needed some sort of spark and they found one - at least for an evening - in the form of Brase.
Making his first collegiate start Brase had a career high 17 points on 7-9 shooting as the Tigers steadily pulled away from Rider for a 62-45 victory.
"He hasn't gotten many reps - I'll say that," Henderson remarked about his young center. "He's just a player and he's capable of doing a lot of things."
Consider Brase's open to the contest - two free throws, an assist on a Will Barrett three pointer, a charge taken, a second assist resulting in an Ian Hummer jumper and a curling layup - all before the first media time out.
Up 11 with nine minutes to go Princeton scored nine straight to lock down the victory as Brase added a pair of layups while taking a second charge in-between.
"I'm trying to do whatever the team needs," Brase said quietly after his efficient and exciting night was done. "If I need to play center, I'll play center."
While the Tigers committed 14 turnovers they far were more aggressive against the Broncs' pressure than they had been versus similar opponents in 2012-13, which helped create a number of layups and dunks. Princeton had almost as many points in the paint (44) as Rider totaled overall (45).
Not to be overlooked in Brase's breakout was 15 tallies for Hummer along with seven rebounds and five assists against one turnover and sophomore Denton Koon's career high 15.
Anthony Myles' 18 paced Rider in defeat. The Broncs led for just a single first half possession.
A complete recap plus postgame audio from Henderson, Brase & Koon can be found after the jump.
Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson Hans Brase & Denton Koon:
Brase’s early impact didn’t create much distance for Princeton from Rider. The Broncs – as expected – implemented a pressing defense that picked the Tigers up full court for the entire game.
Leading 9-6 after Barrett found Brase curling, Jonathon Thompson going to his left at Koon seamed to have his shot blocked but strongly still finished his drive.
Brase would be replaced by Connolly at the 14:29 mark. Brase’s 7.1 fouls/40 minutes have already been discussed in the comments of this site and Henderson saw a chance to rest Brase with zero personals for a stretch.
Koon – who had the greatest difficulty of any Tiger versus pressure – gave the ball back to Rider when he traveled under duress, but St. John’s transfer Nurideen Lindsey handed possession back with a carry trying to drive at T.J. Bray.
Neither team would find the basket for a 3:23 stretch that ended with a no look laser from Hummer to Koon at his usual spot somehow un-accosted next to the rim.
Lindsey got by Clay Wilson and spun around Connolly for a layup before a posting Connolly passed out to Koon stepping into a long two point jumper that caught the front rim and dropped.
It is worth mentioning that this exact shot from this same form of pass was what Koon and Henderson were working on together at Jadwin Gym when I visited yesterday to record an interview.
“It is definitely something I'd like to correlate more into my game,” Koon acknowledged. “When the looks are there we need to be able to knock down shots."
Brase continued to impress while moved over to forward as he shared the floor with Connolly. Brase stood his ground versus Thompson, resulting in a wild shot inside. But Brase also showed his youth telegraphing a backcourt pass that Shawn Valentine slapped away giving Brase little choice but to foul or also allow a layup.
Junior Fortunat’s jump hook over Mack Darrow brought Rider back within one.
Hummer completely abused the smaller and slower Tommy Pereira in the post for a layup and after Barrett kept a Princeton possession alive with an offensive board Hummer driving to his left drew three defenders as he shot the ball and Barrett did not have to jump on the weakside putting the miss home.
The score 17-14, Darrow threw the ball into the backcourt after Princeton seemed to have dealt with the pressure, missing Hummer up top. Lindsey tried to go at Darrow inside but got a toe on the sideline.
While Rider held their lone lead of 3-2 for just :28, they did a good job of staying within one possession for the opening 15 minutes. A Thompson free throw drew the Broncs down a pair.
Barrett’s diagonal feed to Koon at point blank range doubled the Tigers’ advantage and following a pair of missed free throws for Daniel Stewart, Brase on the left block took a pass and went immediately up on the smaller Valentine, scoring as he was fouled. A free throw increased the lead to 22-15.
Thompson saw a whisker of space behind Brase’s raised hand on defense, took a three and converted it.
Brase blocked a scoop by Lindsey and Hummer saved the ball to Bray. Koon could not connect from the left baseline on a jumper but Bray tracked down the loose ball and Hummer from the opposite side used a jump step to get up to the glass.
Committing his second foul with 1:35 left in the half sent Brase to the bench and Dera Nd-Ezuma made one of two at the line as Rider opened 2-6 from the stripe.
Connolly aggressively rumbled to his right for a running hook over Nd-Ezuma and a 26-19 count.
Thompson got by Bray, was held and made two free throws. Princeton’s possession drained the shot clock but the best opportunity before expiration was Hummer having no choice but to take a three on the left side that missed, dropping him to 1-10 outside for the season. Barrett secured the offensive rebound and went up with six seconds showing, fouled by Myles. Barrett split a pair to make it 27-21 and that was your score at intermission.
Princeton shot 11-23 to open the game (47.8%) and 1-4 from three (25.0%) meaning they were 10-19 inside the arc (52.6%). The Tigers also made 4-5 free throws (80.0%). Brase had seven while Hummer, Barrett and Koon each contributed six.
Rider was 7-19 for the half (36.8%), 3-5 from deep (60.0%) and 4-8 on free throws (50.0%). Thompson had 10 of their 21 as the Broncs were outrebounded 18-10.
There were seven turnovers for the home team and six by the visitors.
Myles’ nice take on the first possession of the second half drew Rider back within four but you started to see Princeton get hyper-aggressive (while still under control) against the Broncs’ pressure.
Barrett went diagonally over the defense to Hummer with a head of steam and Hummer hammered the ball home so hard with his left hand as Lindsey helplessly tried to get in front of him that a breakaway miss against Fordham seemed to be emphatically commented upon via action.
The defense too was raising its level. Brase blocked Nd-Ezuma’s two handed dunk attempt and Hummer took a Lindsey charge.
Hummer nearly had a nifty assist on a pass to Koon but Koon’s left-handed flick was left short. Hummer slapped his hands together as he came up the court.
His next chance with the ball Hummer did not give it up, going all the way with his left for a 31-23 count as Rider called time.
Following a Myles layup, Koon looked like he had escaped pressure at half court, but as a pair of teammates raced past him slid back over the line dividing the floor.
Nd-Ezuma blew a reverse and Hummer lost the ball going up inside. Lindsey tried to save possession before it went over the baseline and passed back to no one. Hummer was first to react and changed his speed and his direction, moving back to the basket where he picked the loose ball up in the paint and laid it in swiftly.
Lindsey off the glass made it 33-25 but Rider’s time within single digits was not going to last much longer. Bray driving to his right set up Koon on the right baseline for a second midrange jumper.
Myles with a big hop drove at Barrett and promptly threw the ball away. When Hummer got doubled someone had to be open and that someone was Barrett alone in the paint for a two hand slam.
It felt like the Tigers had a chance to break the game open when Bray inbounding caught Rider napping and fed Wilson in the near corner for a three that was off by a fraction. Thompson somehow got behind the entire Princeton defense, received a Stewart pass and dunked with two hands.
If past performance was proof of future behavior, this is the juncture where it would have all started to go wrong for Princeton but instead the Tigers eventually played some of their best-looking basketball to date.
Brase to a cutting Koon converted a layup that spunnnnnnnnnnn around the rim several times before dropping.
There were some indicators that the negative tide might be turning – Wilson driving into an easy charge, Barrett trapped putting the ball too low, Brase with a rare force inside and a runner by Bray that was either an ugly shot or an ill-advised lob to Connolly – but when Bray found Brase reversing the lead was still 10.
Hummer curled to the basket, took a Barrett pass and as he was pushed in the back by Pereira still was able to get the ball to the rim from a strange angle. The shot popped in and out, then Hummer split a pair at the line.
Bray stepped behind a Hummer screen for a left wing three that made it 45-31 with 9:20 showing.
Myles answered with a three point play, missing on a left baseline drive, then popping right up to tip in his own follow as Connolly fouled.
Koon was more aggro versus Rider pressure, fighting through two men and driving from well beyond the arc to his left for a soaring layup through the defense as Myles fouled him, converting the three point play.
One of the great treats of the season to date was the chemistry Brase and Hummer shared to close things out.
Hummer’s weakside rebound of a Wilson miss kept a possession going, a possession that ended with Brase passing to a posting Hummer and receiving a return feed on a cut to the tin.
After Hummer attacked to his left for a pair and a 52-34 score, Brase lobbed a pass to Hummer and cut back to the basket, able to roll in a shot amid self-generated contact.
"It is really fun playing with Ian,” said Brase – a statement as true as it was obvious.
Myles ended a 9-0 Princeton push with a nice bank shot on the right side but it was not the start of anything. Wilson to Koon down the right baseline was effective and easy.
While Rider scored five straight with Hummer and Bray off the floor, the Tigers countered with six in a row as soon as they returned. Two Bray free throws, Brase’s soft putback of a Hummer miss and Hummer to Brase for a two hand slam did the trick.
All 13 Princeton players in uniform saw action with Bobby Garbade, Ameer Elbuluk, Issac Serwanga and Mike Washington Jr. getting in late.
When Brase indeed softly stated he was trying to do whatever the Tigers need, he may not have realized how much a team that was trying to do too much had needed him to do exactly what he did – especially at the unexpected position where he did it from.
-Princeton shot 26-48 for the game (54.2%), 15-25 in the second half (60.0%). The Tigers attempted eight threes, making two (25.0%) and were 8-11 at the line (72.7%). Of their 14 turnovers, two came in the final two minutes due to the reserves.
-Rider was 16-44 overall (36.4%), 3-10 from deep (30.0%) including 0-5 in the vesper frame and 10-14 on free throws (71.4%). The Broncs’ seven assists were nearly doubled by 13 giveaways.
-Barrett/Brase/Hummer/Koon combined to shoot 24-37 (64.9%) from the floor.
-Brase had 18 points in his first nine games, nearly doubling his output with 17 tonight versus Rider.
-Barrett had to come out of the game after getting injured on a drive with 9:52 to left in the second half. He limped gingerly off the floor and was worked on by Princeton’s new trainer Will Lynch for the rest of the game. Barrett was able to apply pressure and Henderson reported afterwards that it looked to have been a thigh bruise. He is expected to be fine.
-The glass went to Princeton 36-20 with three different Tigers grabbing six or more rebounds.
-Edo Lawrence (street clothes) and Brian Fabrizius (left arm in a sling) were not available for the Tigers.
-The victory was Princeton’s first at home in four tries.