Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Patrick Saunders & Kareem Maddox:
Joel Smith's layup rolled off the rim as time expired and Princeton survived their first night of the UCF Holiday Classic, 65-63 over Northeastern.
Smith's attempt skidded across the iron and nearly rallied the Huskies from down 10 with 80 seconds remaining, as the Tigers turned the ball over twice in the backcourt and made just two of four free throws trying to close out their 10th victory of the season.
After a first half where Princeton's biggest lead was two and Northeastern's largest advantage four, the Tigers' active defense sparked an 18-2 run that seemed to change the game. The second of two Kareem Maddox dunks capped this spurt with 9:59 to go.
However, Princeton's attention to detail waned after they went up 16 and Northeastern hung close enough to make an improbable last second push a possibility.
"I just think that we came to play," said head coach Sydney Johnson of his team's performance during a stretch where Northeastern went 7:16 between field goals. "There's a little bit of a spark in us. I'm disappointed, because I didn't think we did that the entire game. The came after us after that run and we didn't respond well. We've got to learn from that."
Maddox's 19 paced four Tigers in double figures. Dan Mavraides scored 13 and Patrick Saunders had 10. All of Ian Hummer's 10 points came in the second half.
The Tigers' eighth straight win was nearly undone by 9-18 free throw shooting.
Regardless of circumstance, Princeton earned the right to play undefeated Central Florida (12-0) tomorrow night in the four team tournament's championship game.
The open to Wednesday's game looked just like you would expect a contest between two teams who traveled amid a blizzard's after-effects to look if they were also forced to tip at 9:30 pm ET. The action was sloppy, with a handful of inspired possessions.
Northeastern decided to double down on Princeton's big men from the perimeter, trying to slap the ball loose as Tigers moved in from the wings. This removed clean passing lines back to the arc and created awkward approach vectors for post drives. Once they had knocked the ball free, Northeastern was off in transition.
An entry from Hummer for Brendan Connolly was stolen by Chaisson Allen and Alex Harris scored at the other end for a 6-2 Northeastern lead.
With Maddox in for the first time off the bench - replacing Hummer - the Tigers scored next when Maddox blew down the left baseline for a reverse.
Allen drove the right baseline and rolled a shot in, countered by Douglas Davis' three from the right arc.
A posting Vinny Lima went back to Allen on the right side in front of the Princeton bench for a Northeastern trey.
T.J. Bray entered the game for the first time and made an impact before he stepped onto the court. An inbounding Bray found Saunders on the left arc for three. Saunders followed that up with a old school, old man scoop with his right hand as he turned out of the post. Princeton had a 12-11 lead.
While the Tigers were having a touch of difficulty stopping Northeastern's guards from penetrating, the Princeton help defense at the rim was stoic. Open lanes became complicated mires. Ryan Pierson's drive was blocked from behind by Hummer as Saunders stepped in for a charge.
With Princeton up one, neither team could put the ball in the basket until Smith screened off some space and hit from outside.
An inbounding Bray went to Saunders on the wing who next found Mack Darrow turning for two. When Bray fed Darrow sealing off his man and Darrow made one of two free throws as Chris Avenant fouled him at the rim, Princeton had a 15-14 edge with 8:24 left in the half.
Moving Maddox to the top of their defense marking Allen, the Tiger defense continued to keep Princeton in a spot where if they could only string two or three good offensive possessions together, the night might feel different.
Mavraides, who had not done much after recording the game's opening basket on a flip in transition, picked up his second foul on a hold away from the ball with 7:29 left and had to sit the rest of the half.
The Tigers trailed by three on Alex Harris' right baseline push shot, but evened the score with a possession that stayed alive because of Saunders' incredible hustle.
Sure, I've made light of Saunders' flat-footed jump shots this season, but it was Saunders, not high school high jump champion Kareem Maddox, who sailed clear over press row without touching the tables to save a loose ball back to Bray.
Bray held the basketball patiently as Saunders reappeared from under the press seating and returned to the floor. As the crowd around the UCF Arena rewarded Saunders with round of applause, Davis rewarded Saunders' effort with a three at the top of the key - the assist to Saunders.
"The ball got tipped out and I saw it going out of bounds so I tried to get it back in," was Saunders' vanilla description of a special play that had people talking in the stands after the game.
Maddox fought his way through a double team and scored on Lima while drawing a foul. His free throw was long and Princeton led 22-20 with 3:09 left in the half.
Harris drove and flipped up a shot as Maddox closed in, Lima tipping the second chance home.
Down one, holding for the last shot of the half, Maddox's turning, fading jumper on the right baseline sailed into the netting as the first half horn blared and Princeton held a 26-25 edge.
The Tigers were 10-23 from the floor (43.5%), 3-8 outside the arc (37.5%) and 3-5 on free throws (60.0%). Maddox led all scorers with 10 off the bench, including Princeton's final eight points of the half.
Northeastern shot 11-32 (34.4%), 2-9 outside (22.2%) and 1-2 from the stripe (50.0%).
Ian Hummer had been a non-factor, 0-3 from the field with two turnovers in seven minutes of action before the break. When play resumed he was simultaneously a whirling dervish and a blur of active hands.
"We've got to mature, because I think he causes a lot of problems for people, but it's when he wants to play hard," Johnson said of Hummer. "He's got to want to play hard all the time. They were doing some things strategically that disrupted him and some of our other guys in the first half, but the effort's got to be there. I thought that his effort was pretty dang good in the second half."
Isolated, Hummer blew by Lima but could not finish, slapping the basket support in frustration. Hummer made one of two free throws following the whistle.
33 seconds of great Princeton defense was not rewarded, as Jonathan Lee drove into the lane and dished to Pierson a hair before time expired.
Hummer's spin to the glass on Lima and a right baseline jumper by Pierson set the scoreboard to 31 all with 16:45 left.
A lefty drive by Hummer, as he cradled the ball low and then released it high, started Princeton's big run.
Hummer picked up a loose ball and threw a perfect spiral down the center of the gridiron to a breaking Mavraides, who caught from over his shoulder and went right up to the rim in one move.
Next time down the court Hummer stepped in front of a Lee pass to the post, but Davis' lob for Maddox was too long and over the end line.
More Hummer at both ends. Some loose change in the lane came to Hummer, who tossed it in for a six point lead. For good measure Hummer absorbed an Allen charge, giving the ball back to Princeton.
When Hummer took a pass from Mavraides, waited for Mavraides to cut through and then fed Mavraides on the bounce for some give and go action the lead was eight.
Maddox kept increasing that advantage with a spin against Kauri Black off the glass. Northeastern called time.
6'10" sophomore forward Will Barrett saw seven minutes of action in the second half and made a couple of nice defensive plays, taking advantage of his epic wingspan. Barrett tied up Lee on a drive, then blocked a Pierson shot back in his grill.
When Mavraides drove down the lane and shoveled to a closing Maddox for a slam the lead was 12.
Joel Smith stopped this run with two free throws, then Mavraides launched from the left arc for three after taking in a Barrett pass and Barrett's steal ended in a diagonal pass by Davis to Maddox. The ball just to the left of the rim, Maddox went up and hammered it down for a 49-33 Tiger lead.
Maddox rebounded a Smith three try, then threw the ball right to Smith in the backcourt, resulting in a Lee layup. Miscommunication between Maddox and Mavraides led to a second Princeton turnover. Allen scored at the rim.
Shooting under 35% for the game, Northeastern began to get myriad point blank chances that increased their percentage. Making five straight layups, the Huskies drew within 53-43 at the 7:04 mark when Allen's floater bounded in on the fifth bounce.
It looked like Saunders' triple on the right side as the NE defense followed Maddox would provide a final bit of breathing room to get across the finish line, but Black had a bucket, Pierson followed with two free throws and after a Maddox lane violation on a one-and-one, Allen lost the ball, picked it up on the right wing and launched a three pointer to suddenly draw Northeastern within 56-50.
Maddox was opportune, following Mavraides into the lane and putting home his second chance. Each team added a free throw and it became 59-51 Tigers.
Harris converted both sides of a one-and-one after Mavraides tried to poke the ball free from behind.
A slashing Mavraides torqued the ball up to the glass and it went down as Mavraides sailed parallel to the baseline. Mavraides' free throw was off the mark.
Pierson set an illegal screen and the ball was Princeton's. A turnaround Maddox jumper was saved by Hummer, passing out to Davis. The Tigers used a time out and when play resumed Princeton went into four corner keepaway, Davis passing down to Hummer catching and scoring to take the lead back to 10 with 1:20 left.
Nothing comes easy. Allen's right wing three was followed nine seconds later by a Mavraides inbounds pass on the far sideline to Saunders that Harris picked up as Saunders fouled him. Harris made his first try but was long on the second. The offensive rebound came to Smith and Harris got the ball back for a layup to draw the lead down to 63-59.
Princeton had wanted to get Hummer off the floor, but the second chance negated this strategy. Hummer was fouled by Allen with :51.1 to go and made one of two free throws.
A step back three by Allen popped in and out, then Black was on the right side for an easy putback. 64-61.
Coming up the floor while contested, the ball deflected off Mavraides' knee and onto the ground. Black dove down and controlled, getting a time out before Princeton could tie him up. Somehow, Northeastern had the ball with less than 30 seconds to go and needing a three to tie.
There was enough time left and enough focus placed on the perimeter that Allen drove by Bray into the lane for a layup. 64-63.
An inbounding Maddox found Mavraides in the far left corner. Allen fouled him and Mavraides calmed himself at the stripe. His first shot kicked in and out, but the second was pure for a two point lead.
Needing more help on the perimeter, Princeton called on infrequently-used and recently-snowbound sophomore guard Jimmy Sherburne for the first time. Sherburne replaced Saunders while Bray spelled Davis.
Allen was cut off twice, then Smith drove to his right and the ball trickled away from its destination and off to the left as the game concluded.
"[Our run] was built on defense," said Maddox following Princeton's close call. "We just have to keep that defensive effort consistent until the end of the game and not let up like we saw tonight."
-Princeton finished 25-51 (49.0%) from the floor, 15-28 in the second half (52.6%). The Tigers made 6-15 from three (40.0%) and a near-fatal 9-18 (50.0%) at the stripe. All five Tigers who attempted free throws missed at least one FT.
-Northeastern shot 25-59 on the night (42.4%), 14-27 in the second half (51.9%). By my count the Huskies made 10 of 13 shots down 16 before missing their tying try. Outside the arc, Northeastern was 4-14 (28.6%) and they hit 9-12 free throws (75.0%).
-Allen led Northeastern with 19 points on 7-15 shooting.
-Davis is up to 161 three pointers as a Tiger, one behind Sydney Johnson for fourth all-time at Princeton.
-Princeton now has 10 non-conference wins over DI opponents, reaching double figures prior to Ivy play for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
-You can add "Ted Valentine and my dad talking about illegal screens" to my list of things I have seen that I never expected to see.