Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson:
Postgame audio - Ian Hummer & Dan Mavraides:
After Princeton held on to defeat Northeastern 65-63 on Wednesday night in the first round of the UCF Holiday Classic, Tiger head coach Sydney Johnson allowed himself to consider the opportunity that his team now had against Central Florida.
Johnson understood first-hand that if you decide to play basketball at Princeton, the opportunity to knock off a Top 25 team on their home floor will come, but these chances rarely occur more than ten times across your four seasons.
"We played another ranked team earlier this year and that didn't turn out well," Johnson said, referencing the Tigers' 97-60 loss at Duke in mid-November. "So we have to prove a lot to ourselves."
The difference between a signature victory over a 12-0 foe and a close loss in the final game of 2010 came down to the final four minutes.
"They just probably made one or two more plays than we did," considered Johnson. "Offensive rebounds killed us."
Two layups, one a touch strong the other a hair short, did not fall for Princeton trailing 58-57 and A.J. Rompza’s floater in the lane made it a three point game in favor of the Knights.
After Kareem Maddox missed a free throw, the Tigers' only blemish in 15 tries at the line, Brendan Connolly tracked down an offensive rebound. Inside, Ian Hummer's drop step to tie was blocked by Keith Clanton.
Marcus Jordan attempted a step back jumper over Mavraides that rattled out, but Isaiah Sykes grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled by T.J. Bray, making both free throws for the Knights' first two possession lead of the evening.
Three examples of the slender difference between an impressive win and a tough defeat.
"They bullied us on the boards at the end of the game," admitted Mavraides. "Those second possessions where they could pull it back out and run another 25 seconds off the clock - if we don't get a stop there it is pretty demoralizing."
Dan Mavraides scored 18 of his team-high 20 in the first half but had difficulty finding similarly open shots with Jordan tightly matching him after the break. Ian Hummer added 19 including 5-5 free throw shooting and Douglas Davis had 14.
Jordan scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half.
Central Florida outrebounded Princeton 39-22 and grabbed 21 of 28 boards in the second 20 minutes.
The crowd for Thursday's championship game was not as large as the 7,000+ who turned out the prior evening. With UCF's football team facing Georgia in the Liberty Bowl tomorrow afternoon, conflicted Knights fans may have already headed to Memphis.
Those in the stands were left standing, waiting for Central Florida's first basket for the initial 4:45 as Princeton opened up an 8-0 lead.
A confident Mavraides led the way, driving to create chances for teammates before unselfishly taking advantage for a series of long jumpers.
Connolly spun to the left baseline for a push shot to open the scoring. Davis' step back jumper over the smaller Rompza doubled that lead. Mavraides attacked from the wing and set up Hummer on the left baseline for a shot. A great pass to Mavraides down the lane for a scoop and Central Florida used a time out.
Connolly picked an entry pass by Isaac Sosa and in transition a Davis triple try came up short.
Finally Jordan put UCF on the board with three over Hummer's hands.
Sosa's ball fake freed some space and he stepped left for a three with 13:11 left that drew the Knights within 10-7.
Hummer's acrobatic reverse was offset by a high/low bounce pass by Clanton to the 7'0" Tom Herzog, who scored as Patrick Saunders fouled him.
A Mavraides drive set up Davis on the left side for his 162nd three pointer as a Tiger.
Sosa answered off the left wing before a Mack Darrow hand off screen to Mavraides behind the line for three.
The lead down to 18-16 after Clanton turned and fired a jumper in from the free throw line, Princeton freed up Mavraides racing left to right on the baseline with a series of screens, the last by Maddox. Mavraides caught a T.J. Bray pass and instantly launched his second deep jumper.
Holding a two point lead, Davis made a pair of individual plays that gave Princeton four points before UCF could get the ball across midcourt.
Davis stole the ball from Jordan and was fouled over the top by Tyler, both free throws on the mark. Using Mavraides and Davis as a two man press to bother the Knights in the backcourt, a pass by P.J. Gaynor was rudely cut off with a loud slap as the ball was batted by Davis, who revved back the other way for a layup.
Sykes was fouled by Darrow trying to recover his own miss and made both free throws.
On the left side of the floor, Mavraides set a back screen for Maddox, then stepped backwards to receive a Darrow pass for a 28-21 score.
Rompza's three on the right side drew UCF within four but a combo move with Hummer passing to Mavraides right back to a curling Hummer made it a six point game.
Tyler hit on the left side for three, Central Florida's sixth perimeter jumper of the half. Hummer went right by Tyler at the other end for two and following a Sykes miss, the Knights did not pick up Mavraides coming up the floor and the senior tri-captain connected a fourth time from the right arc as Princeton's bench came to their collective feet.
Rompza had the ball slapped away into Mavraides' hands and a driving Mavraides was bailed out by a whistle. Two free throws and Princeton's lead had reached a game-high 37-27.
Clanton got into the lane and Herzog scored off the glass. Hummer was blocked by Herzog inside but Hummer rejected a Clanton try right before the horn as Central Florida held for the final shot of the half.
20 minutes in, Princeton led the #19 team in the country by eight, shooting 14-29 from the field (48.3%), 5-11 from deep (45.5%) and 4-4 at the line (100.0%). The Tigers had four turnovers and twice as many steals. Mavraides (18), Davis (9) and Hummer (8) combined for 35 of the team's 37 points.
Central Florida made 10 of 27 in the half (37.0%), 6-10 outside the arc (60.0%) and 4-17 inside it (23.5%). The Knights were 3-5 on free throws (60.0%) and turned the ball over 10 times.
A Davis crossover three try came up short as play resumed. Connolly was in position for the rebound but could not control.
Back the other way, Rompza's diagonal lob to Clanton drew UCF within six.
Davis' pull up in the lane was also short and Jordan attacked the iron for a bucket.
Crossing over Rompza twice, Davis' third try went soft off the back iron and in.
Jordan kept coming as he scored nine straight for Central Florida. Mavraides fouled him on a drive and both free throws were good.
Following a spinning, hanging push by Maddox that fell short, Jordan got into the lane and bounced off Connolly while scoring for a three point play that cut the lead down to one.
A Princeton possession ended with a less than ideal Maddox line drive three point try rushed to beat the shot clock buzzer and Jordan's jumper over Mavraides from the free throw line extended provided Central Florida with their first lead of the contest, 40-39 with 14:56 remaining.
Jordan was both creative and wise with the basketball when UCF had possession and his extended defense on Mavraides made Princeton's leading scorer have to change his focus and start to try and set up his teammates.
"They had to make an adjustment or else [Dan] was going to have a career high," Johnson said. "It felt like he still got some other guys involved and made some plays for himself as well."
Mavraides to Maddox ended up short of the target, but Hummer had a steal and layup on the opposite side to push Princeton back up one.
Able to use his speed to race by Herzog from the perimeter, Hummer became Princeton's best offensive option. Going around Herzog to the right made it 43-40 Tigers.
"They made their run and we responded pretty well," said Johnson. "It was a ballgame. That's what we came down here for."
The next 10 minutes were tense, one possession basketball.
Saunders looked clean helping cut off the baseline but was called for a foul, Clanton making one of two.
Maddox, who struggled both to get touches and once he had possession, was blocked by Herzog as he hung in the air. Sykes inside knotted the scoreboard at 43.
Hummer exploded left as Herzog could not slide in time and emphatically slapped his hands together as the ball banked in. A free throw following the under-12 minute media time out moved Princeton back up three.
Maddox nearly picked up a steal on the right sideline, but as he tried to control the ball before stepping over he bumped Jordan trying to recover. Instead of a highlight in one direction, Princeton was over the foul limit and Jordan went from half court to the free throw line. Both his shots fell.
Tyler missed a jumper and Mavraides slid to the ground in the left corner attempting to control a weak side rebound. As he fell he hoped to throw the ball from his back off of Rompza but possession went with Central Florida. Jordan's jumper was controlled by Clanton on the weak side and an extended possession ended with a step back Jordan jumper over Mavraides for a 47-46 Knight lead.
A textbook backdoor bounce pass by Mavraides to Saunders flipped the advantage yet again before Jordan went right at the glass for a one point UCF edge.
At the 7:57 mark a posting Maddox slipped around Sosa for his only field goal of the game and a 50-50 count.
Clanton spun on Saunders for two. Princeton looked to be even again as Hummer found Maddox inside. Maddox's dunk try rattled the rim and eventually fell in, but because Maddox was still hanging on the rim it was declared offensive goaltending.
Clanton's illegal screen trying to free Jordan put the ball in Princeton's hands and Hummer sailed to his left at Herzog for a foul, converting both tries.
Mavraides came out of a scrum with the ball and before the UCF defense could completely reset found Davis by the Princeton bench for a big three. The Tigers had a 55-52 lead and 5:06 was still to come.
Herzog rebounded his own miss and scored. Maddox was fouled hard by Herzog and made both free throws. Still a three point lead, now 4:17 to go.
Jordan's up and under fade drew the Knights within one. Hummer was quick to drive and lost the ball as it was poked away by Clanton. Bray bodied Jordan on a drive and Jordan made both free throws after the game's last media time out.
"We tried to stick to our scouting report in terms of guarding him and taking away the things he likes to do but he's a great player and he made things happen anyway," Mavraides said of Jordan.
To win a game on the road at an undefeated Top 25 team's gym, many separate things have to go right. On consecutive offensive possessions Princeton did everything right, save for placing the ball in the basket. Hummer made a perfect read drawing attention in the lane and found Saunders on the left side. An easy layup try was rushed by a fraction of a second and rolled out to Clanton.
Following a rare pair of misses inside by Jordan and Sykes, Mavraides' open slash to the rim was left a touch short. Two chances to take the lead, two chances missed.
Rompza's teardrop boosted UCF up to three, then Maddox was fouled by Clanton after receiving a Mavraides zip under the hoop. Maddox made the first and Connolly tracked down the second, giving Hummer a trying shot which Clanton blocked clean.
The battle between Jordan and Mavraides looked to go Princeton's way as a stepback jumper rattled out, but Sykes was there to grab the board as Bray fouled him. Two free throws later and Central Florida had their first two possession lead with 1:17 to go.
"They jumped over our back for a couple offensive rebounds," Johnson said. "We have to box out and make sure we make those plays."
A Mavraides drive was too strong but Sykes was called for a block late. Mavraides' only two points of the second half made it a 62-60 game.
Maddox picked up Jordan and stayed with him, but Jordan snaked into the lane and drew contact from Maddox and Bray on the floor. Two more free throws and the UCF lead went back to four.
Davis' stepback three over Rompza was ill-advised and an offensive foul by Mavraides trying to drive with his team down four and eight seconds left sealed Princeton's fate.
A long outlet to Tyler for a dunk moved Central Florida in front by six for the first time and provided the game's final margin.
"40 minutes of hard effort, I definitely saw that tonight and was happy with that," said Johnson after the Tigers' first loss in their last nine games. "I think we have a nice team but we want to be a little bit better than nice."
Winning at Central Florida would have been extremely nice, but Princeton fell a couple plays short.
-Princeton ended the evening 21-49 from the floor (42.9%), 6-16 outside the arc (37.5%) and 14-15 on free throws (93.3%).
-Central Florida shot 22-51 (43.1%), 12-24 in the second half (50.0%). The Knights hit 6-12 threes (50.0%) and 18-24 free throws (75.0%).
-Clanton (10) and Herzog (12) combined to equal Princeton's team rebounding total. UCF had 12 offensive boards, eight in the second half.
-With 163 career three point shots, Davis passed Sydney Johnson for fourth place at Princeton and trails Gabe Lewullis by 49 for third all-time.
-Hummer and Mavraides made the All-Tournament Team. Jordan deservedly was the Holiday Classic's MVP.
-Princeton closes 2010 with a 26-9 record for the calendar year.