Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Will Barrett & Ian Hummer:
There is a lot of work to do, more work than any Princeton player, coach or observer had expected.
Leading 48-44, Wagner outscored the Tigers 16-0 midway through the second half and easily pulled away from an unexpectedly sloppy Princeton team.
Making their 2011-12 debut and playing their first game with Mitch Henderson as head coach, Princeton struggled with Wagner’s three guard ball pressure and committed endless turnovers of both the forced and unforced varieties. The Tigers gave away possession 15 times in the first 20 minutes and had three more gaffes on their first three possessions of the second half. By the final buzzer the turnover total reached a brutal 28.
“We were on defense for almost the entire game,” Henderson said.
Ian Hummer was able to turn 17 shots into a game high 19 points, including his first collegiate three pointer. Douglas Davis took just seven field goals and added 12 in defeat.
For the Seahawks, Tyler Murray led three players in double figures with 15.
The end result was not surprising given what Wagner returned (five starters from a year ago) and what the orange and black were looking to replace (Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox), but the way Princeton played was. The Tigers were poor with the ball and bad on the defensive glass.
"From the opening possessions, it was clear that something was amiss,” said Hummer.
Wagner grabbed 15 offensive boards, leading to 11 second chance points.
"They outcompeted us. They played harder than us. That's very disappointing," Henderson confessed. "We have a long way to go."
The Committee to Replace Dan Mavraides (CRDM) was ineffective. T.J. Bray got the start in the backcourt with Davis but whomever Henderson threw into action did not look to shoot much and was a big part of the turnover crisis. Bray (4), Davis (4), Jimmy Sherburne (6) and Ben Hazel (1) combined for 15 miscues out of the backcourt. Sherburne barreled ahead like he was moving at 45 rpm while the rest of the floor was set to 33, Hazel and Bray comparatively hesitant. There was rarely middle ground.
"You should have 14 turnovers in two games," Henderson stated tartly.
When starting big man Brendan Connolly picked up his second personal foul just 2:08 into the affair Henderson first opted to go for a simple position replacement in the form of fellow center Mack Darrow. However, with Princeton in front 14-9 following Bray finding Davis in transition behind the line and Darrow feeding Hummer in the deep post for two, Henderson decided to replace Hummer with Hazel and counter the Seahawks' three guards with three of his own.
What had looked to this point merely like a basketball game played between two teams raising the curtains on their respective seasons got ugly. The combination of Hazel, Davis, Sherburne, Darrow and Patrick Saunders committed four turnovers in as many possession.
Wagner's guards were simply better than Princeton's. Picking up their defensive assignments as soon as the Tigers inbounded did not allow Princeton to run their offense as they desired. The former point guard Henderson pulled no punches. "You've got to get some leadership in the backcourt," he said. "We need somebody that's going to tell everybody else 'I've got it!'"
When Hummer split the defense to his left the score was tied at 21 despite the myriad issues facing this year's model of Princeton.
Will Barrett, making his third career start and looking uncomfortable every time he touched the ball to this point, recorded his second personal foul at the 8:12 mark and two Murray free throws returned the lead to Wagner. Like Connolly, Barrett too was lost for the half.
Bray was left prone on the floor in the backcourt after trying to run down a steal but it still shouldn't have been so easy for Kenneth Ortiz to race to the rim unobstructed by the four remaining Tigers. Hazel split a pair twice at the free throw line before Josh Thompson was able to get Saunders in the air in the far corner and drive straight down the baseline for a perfunctory two-handed dunk.
Darrow, who had Princeton's highest free throw percentage in 2010-11, surprised by missing two at the line. Bray grazed Murray on a leaner in the lane and both attempts were true. Princeton trailed 29-23 with 3:32 to go.
When Murray went to his right around Hummer to the glass the Wagner lead was a game high seven. Sherburne was doubled near midcourt when an open passing lane to Saunders in the far wing suddenly parted. The cross-court pass was perfect and Saunders set and fired for three.
Marcus Burton countered on the right baseline. The Tigers caught a break as Wagner missed a pair of threes and two more offensive rebounds did little more than draw additional time off the clock. Nearing the half Princeton did not hold for the final possession. Saunders lobbed a backdoor cut to Hummer for a pair. Murray rose for a jumper at the top of the arc as time ticked low and Sherburne fouled him just after the release with :02.7 showing. Murray, who hit on 82.8% of his tries last year only could go one for three, sending the Seahawks off the floor up 34-29.
Wagner was 12-29 (41.4%) in the first half, 2-4 from three point range (50.0%) and 8-13 at the line (61.5%). Nine offensive boards went the Seahawks’ way.
Princeton’s 15 turnovers cast a pall over 10-19 shooting (52.6%), 3-5 from three point range (60.0%) and a foul 6-12 at the line (50.0%). 41.2% of the team’s possessions ended in a turnover.
The respite in the locker room didn’t help the Tigers’ ball control. Immediately after inbounding to resume play a pass from Davis to an unguarded Hummer went through Hummer’s legs and was stopped by the Princeton bench. Next time with the ball, Bray’s pass to Hummer was intercepted by Latif Rivers. A deflection came to Naofall Folahan at point blank range for two. Their third try was no charm as Barrett was whistled for a five second violation. Jonathan Williams stepped into a free throw length jumper and Wagner was now up 38-29.
A funny thing happened for the next two minutes: Princeton played unexpectedly all-the-cobwebs-are-shaken off great. Hummer lowered his shoulder to the right and was fouled by Folahan as the runner banked home for a three point play. Sure, Connolly didn’t see Ortiz from his blind side and had his pocket picked but when a posting Hummer kicked out to a wide open Barrett for an on-target three point shot, nobody was going to remember.
Williams was called for his fourth personal foul clearing out Hummer with an elbow. Orlando Parker also entered foul trouble when he grabbed Connolly as he took a nifty back cut feed from Sherburne. Connolly missed his first free throw, made his second. Parker’s fourth personal came seconds later setting an illegal screen.
Barrett diagonally to Hummer switching hands in the air evened the ledger at 38.
All this sudden momentum didn’t last long. Folahan tipped in a Murray try as it rolled off the rim, the first to bounce back up to the ball.
"We were putting so much pressure on ourselves by throwing the ball away,” said Henderson as he tried to explain why these positive stretches were not longer swaths of time.
Hummer’s spinning jumper was off the mark before Rivers crossed over Barrett and fired in a three. Barrett got that basket back right away, popping to the top of the arc and firing his second triple of the season for a 43-41 game.
A long two from Thomson and Murray rising from deep over Bray set Princeton back seven. Hummer added a new wrinkle to his offensive game, showing no hesitation when open on the right wing for three to make it a four point deficit at the 12:32 mark.
It was Princeton’s last basket until late in regulation. The wheels came clean off. A few bolts were loosened by Folahan for two. An open Saunders could not connect and Hummer’s deep hook rattled out. Thompson unscrewed an axle with a fake to send Saunders in the air and pull up. Both Saunders and Sherburne were plenty jumpy on Saturday when their man went into a shooting motion. Barrett was late sliding over on a Rivers drive and it was time to call AAA as the ball went in as the whistle sounded.
Trailing by 10, turnovers plagued. Darrow passed and Barrett cut to completely separate locations. A Hummer floater was waved off by an offensive foul that appeared to come after the ball had left the Princeton forward’s hand.
Thompson’s tip followed a Chris Martin jumper. Martin opened up on the right side for three soon thereafter and a 59-44 count. In the words of a woman sitting within earshot of me: “This is getting very annoying.”
Darrow ended the drought with 3:35 to go on a pair of free throws. Wagner still led 64-46.
Trailing by 20, Henderson brought freshman Denton Koon into the game for the final minutes. He was a needed spark, even though the result was sewn away. Koon picked up a Hummer post try weak side and laid it back. Koon found Hummer inside and a Koon drive set up Bray in the far corner for three. His only mistake was trying to tip in a John Comfort shot that appeared already headed for the bottom of the basket. This bit of offensive goaltending was Princeton’s 28th and final turnover of the game.
Koon was a positive for Henderson after the game. "I probably should have gotten him in earlier,” Henderson admitted. “We need some fresh blood. It is a veteran team, but where is the spark coming from? He has some life, that kid."
The turnover rate stayed unfortunately steady in the second half, but Princeton’s shooting percentage dropped to 41.7% (10-24). The Tigers finished 20-43 from the field overall (46.5%), a quality 7-13 from three (53.8%) and a rough 10-18 at the line (55.6%).
While the performance was to the liking of no one, the accountability the players took in what had occurred did leave faint room for optimism.
“Plain and simple we didn't come to play,” Hummer said bluntly. “28 turnovers? That's absurd. The fact that they got so many offensive rebounds, that's indicative of that."
Seated next to him, Barrett was even more honest. As Barrett spoke Henderson stared intently at him and you could sense that Barrett’s words were an important part of his maturation in Henderson’s eyes.
“Ian and I have to take a lot of the blame,” said Barrett. “We're the two main forwards right now and if our guards are being pressured as much as they were, they have to trust us enough to give us the ball and take care of it. We didn't do that tonight."
"The difference is we came in expecting to win and not wanting to win,” he added.
For Henderson, the answer for this team might be to get better by going slower. The 2011-12 roster may not be able to push the tempo and work on the break like last year’s Tigers.
"We really have to look at how fast we want to play, because we can't play like this," said Henderson.
The other answer is less tactical and perhaps less solvable.
"Who can you trust to bring the ball up the floor?," Henderson asked rhetorically. "I think that is going to be something we have to address very seriously."
Monday’s practice is now an open audition, not just for membership in the CRDM but also for the entire roster. The response of the team on Wednesday night at NC State will speak a good deal about the difference between who expects to win and who wants to win.
Time to get to work.
-Douglas Davis’ 12 points tied him with Chris Thomforde for 14th all-time in Princeton history with 1,222 overall and eight behind Rick Hielscher. Surprisingly, Davis had just one second half field goal attempt before two baskets in the final 2:06.
-The loss ended Princeton’s 16 game home winning streak, 13th-longest in the nation.
-Wagner shot 28-61 overall (45.9%), 5-11 outside the arc (45.5%) and 12-23 at the line (52.2%). The Seahawks attempted 18 more field goals than the Tigers.
-The 74 possessions were the most for a regulation Princeton game since last season’s trip to Duke. 38% of the Tigers’ possessions ended in a turnover.
-Jimmy Sherburne recorded a -19 in plus/minus for the game. Denton Koon was the only positive Princeton player at +4 down the stretch.
-Tom Noonan was not in uniform, out with a kneecap injury.