Watching Brown disintegrate Princeton's hope at capturing even a share of the 2012-13 Ivy League title, my thoughts turned to another group of New Jersey stalwarts who have been making music since the three point line was first introduced to college basketball - Yo La Tengo.
Their 13th and most recent album "Fade" opens as follows:
Sometimes the bad guys come out on top
Sometimes the good guys lose
We try not to lose our hearts
Not to lose our minds
Seven days ago there was an audible roar emanating from the home locker room at Jadwin Gym. I heard it, as did everyone else walking out of the media room. The Tigers had moved past Harvard by half a game in the conference standings. All that separated Princeton from the NCAA Tournament was a path of three straight difficult yet manageable road games.
A week later there was little more than silence as morose Princeton assistant coaches filed out of a locker room in Providence filled equally with tears and disbelief.
From the joy of first place to eliminated with one contest left to play.
A loss at Yale. A loss at Brown.
Just like that.
All weekend the Tigers played from behind, searching for a single play or moment of significance that could turn their fortunes around. Princeton only led briefly throughout these 80 minutes in New Haven and Providence, scoring the first four points tonight (a Denton Koon hook and a Hans Brase face up jumper) before the Bears answered with 10 straight. From that point the home team had some degree of control over the ballgame that Princeton could never recapture.
Postgame audio from Coach Mitch Henderson plus the rest of this recap can be found after the jump.
Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson:
Even when the Tigers ran off 10 straight to turn a 22-12 deficit into the night’s second tie on an Ian Hummer free throw with 4:14 left before intermission, Sean McGonagill’s open left wing triple started a 9-2 run in the other direction.
The adrift trip to Yale and Brown exposed some unspoken truths about this year’s model of the Princeton Tigers, shortcomings the team had been able to overcome for several weeks once Brase was inserted into the starting lineup back in mid-December but not able to turn into a championship.
Princeton never became a strong enough defensive team, despite the coaching staff’s repeated assurance that the Tigers could be one. Princeton dropped from an adjusted efficiency of 98.6 a year ago to 98.9 entering last night’s game. While the offense in turn improved slightly, in head coach Mitch Henderson’s second year his team had to outscore opponents more than they had to gut out turgid contests.
Eight of Princeton’s 11 losses (including Friday’s defeat at Yale) came by seven points or less. By contrast only four of the wins were of this variety and the triumph over Dartmouth would not have qualified if it wasn’t for five empty points from the Big Green in the final five seconds.
A big difference between the 2010-11 Ivy champs and this year’s runners up was the former’s ability to labor through victories. Even last year there were times late in a game (Rutgers, Rider, Florida State and at Columbia each come to mind) where Princeton had to make a play to come out victorious.
The 2012-13 Tigers weren't built to grind. More often than not they had to play at a high level across the board to get that W. There's wasn't much margin for error.
It is hard to recall from a mid-March hotel room in Providence many late game successes on offense that decided results, with the exception of Will Barrett’s three point shot to ice the season opener at Buffalo and the Ian Hummer tip/T.J. Bray save to trump Harvard what seems like ages past.
Despite their size, Princeton never developed into the promised strong rebounding team many expected to see. Rebounding was an edge. It was not a true advantage. In their elimination Brown won the glass 43-29 and grabbed more offensive rebounds than the Tigers.
The Ivy’s two leading rebounders Rafael Maia (7) and Cedric Kuakumensah (7) leading the way was no surprise, but they were not the only reason the Bears grabbed 50% of their offensive rebound opportunities in the first half.
One moment is frozen, even though it technically was not an offensive rebound. Scrambling for the first time and showing greater urgency down 59-50, Matt Sullivan was wild but as Barrett tried to track down the rebound, Sullivan came over to rip the ball clean and save the possession as he cut down the red rope barrier taped around the floor sailing out of bounds. This led to an extra free throw for the Bears.
As they had averaged all season, Princeton had about as many second chances as they allowed.
The past three weekends – even when sweeping Harvard and Dartmouth - Princeton received almost no support beyond scoring from Hummer, Bray and either Barrett or Koon.
Brase scored 2/4/2/5/6 before adding 11 tonight. Brase missed six consecutive free throws on the weekend, including a pair against Brown with his team down 10-6 early. At one point all five Princeton starters were over 70% from the line. Brase now pulls up the rear at 63.5% - an untimely regression for the freshman.
Fellow center Brendan Connolly went 7/3/2/0/0/7 the last three weeks, adding a post presence and some rebounding but little beyond. He grabbed one rebound versus Brown.
The biggest surprise of the season might have been the drop off from Mack Darrow. Last season Darrow provided energy, great post passing and a high level of efficiency. As a senior Darrow became a one dimensional three point shooter off the bench on a team that needed anything but.
Darrow’s last three weekends of scoring were 3/3/5/0/0/3 with one total assist during this span. His offensive rating dropped from 120.3 as a junior (Top 100 nationally) to 105.7 entering tonight and his assist rate plummeted from 20.8 to 13.9.
Darrow cocked a three by the Princeton bench with 9:04 left in regulation to pull his team within 47-42. Tucker Halpern answered from outside, coming to a spot on the wing as Sullivan passed out of the post. Darrow could not find the mark on his next look from the wing and following two Tyler Ponticelli free throws the lead was 10 again.
Both Darrow and Connolly each hit double figures once their senior season.
With defenses rightfully keying on Hummer, greater attention could fall to Koon, Bray and Barrett with less concern of what the three bigs discussed so far might add.
After scoring a career high 23 at Columbia, Denton Koon’s incredible jump shooting numbers came back down to earth, only adding to the unuttered dilemma. Koon missed six straight times from behind the arc against Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale before his running 30’ one-handed bank shot at the first half horn versus Brown sent Koon sprinting off the floor with his team down 33-29.
Any momentum that incredible shot hoped to produce was negated by a pass from Bray to Barrett getting tipped by Albrecht and through Barrett’s hands on the wing when play resumed and Brown scoring 10 of the first 12 after intermission to open a 43-31 advantage on an Albrecht three from just inside the Connecticut border.
Koon would miss two more times behind the arc in the second half, lowering his percentage to a still-impressive 43.2% from 53.6%. That original number just did not seem sustainable for a player who made just one three as a freshman.
Speaking of Barrett, while his 51.1% mark from outside remains close to the best in the entire nation, his inability at 6'10" to create his own shot meant that a 16 point game with four threes when set up versus the Yale zone could be followed by a night with just four field goal attempts when mostly man defense stayed in position.
It is easy to say this in retrospect, but the lack of a development of a second true guard hampered the Tigers. The progression of Chris Clement in Ivy play helped tremendously (especially on defense) but as Yale proved at Jadwin the Tigers’ unconventional lineup could be susceptible to pressure and as Columbia proved at Jadwin waves of smaller guards could get by Koon and Barrett to the tin.
Incredible three point shooting (40% entering tonight) helped mask most individual deficiencies that are more glaring when you go 7-25 trying to fight back to even footing.
Against more conventional rosters, four forwards and a point guard was going to be a matchup nightmare one way or the other. There wasn’t a lot of middle ground.
Sending Brown to the line repeatedly over an agonizing final five minutes, Princeton was able to cut a double digit deficit down to two possessions on five occasions but could not get any closer as time inched down.
A despondent Hummer went down fighting, scoring 21 points on 5-15 shooting and 9-14 free throws. 16 of Hummer’s total came fighting uphill in the second half. Hummer was at the line with 1:28 left and his team down six but split a pair. It was the first of four times Princeton crept to that margin late.
Bray had a chance to close within four as well but split a pair with just under a minute to go.
After a 5-13 stretch at the line Brown recovered to make 11 of their final 12 attempts.
Halpern's breakaway dunk with :15 left set off a loud celebration at the Pizzitola Sports Center, but that was likely drowned out by the cheers coming 54 miles up the road at Harvard.
While fouling to extend the game as long as possible was nearly a success, a sequence with Princeton down 43-37 stands out as the segment where hope was lost.
Hummer was intentionally fouled by Sullivan from behind on a breakaway, but split one of his two free throws to get the Tigers within six with the ball. A Bray inbounds went to a spot that Clement and Brase both tried to occupy for an immediate turnover, Hummer extending to his left could not finish, Barrett threw the ball away to a deflecting Halpern on a Princeton five-on-two before Barrett blocked Kuakumensah’s dunk try attempting to finish a three-on-one for Brown and Bray the other way was short with an open three. After all this action without a point on either side for over three minutes, Albrecht tossed in a shot as Clement fouled him and following a free throw the lead was nine entering the final quarter.
“There was some lack of understanding of what you needed at that time,” Henderson said of this succession. “I think everybody was trying to do it themselves, making a big play which wasn’t needed. That was kind of the way we were tonight. Everything seemed off a little off. We’ve had some trouble with this all season.”
A series of missed opportunities in a campaign that will be soon dissected under multiple microscopes due to the lack of an Ivy title
Later in the Yo La Tengo song "Ohm" Ira Kaplan sings:
I felt you slipping, slipping away
Before I could even see
Tried once more, lost my grip
You were gone
At the brink, with their destiny in their own control, Princeton failed to keep their footing. The issues of the season addressed above could no longer be overcome.
The season was not over, but the year was done and the good guys had lost.
-Princeton shot 21-59 as a team (35.6%), 7-25 from three (28.0%) and 18-27 on free throws (66.7%).
-Brown went 21-42 (50.0%), 6-11 from deep (54.5%) and 32-52 at the line (61.5%). Fouling Maia and Kuakumensah on lobs was routinely the right decision as the two combined for a 2-10 night from the line.
-McGonagill had a game-high 24 points on 13-16 free throw shooting along with eight rebounds. The senior Albrecht added 17 including four three pointers. Sullivan finished his career with 13 and Ponticelli 10.
-Hummer became the second Princeton player in school history to exceed 1,600 points for a career.
-Bray is one assist away from 100 for the season.
-33 personal fouls was the highest number I could find for a Princeton team going back to 1996-97. The closest total was 29 against Monmouth in 2004-05.
-Yale and Brown combined to shoot 55% from the floor (44-80), 58% from three (15-26) while going 48-72 at the line.