Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Ian Hummer & T.J. Bray:
20 minutes of basketball at home on a Saturday afternoon in front of a sparse crowd versus visiting Buffalo may not have completely revealed who Princeton is quite yet, but it certainly was an eye-opening look at what the Tigers are capable of.
The orange and black built a daunting 18-4 lead after 11 minutes of play on a pair of Brendan Connolly free throws. Playing their best half of the young season, Princeton was able to open up as wide as a 25 point advantage.
In front 37-16 at the break, the Tigers fought their way through long stretches of aggressive, extended pressure 1-3-1 and 2-3 trapping defense from the Bulls and found enough offensive support for Ian Hummer and Douglas Davis to record Mitch Henderson’s first win as a collegiate head coach.
“What we wanted to do right away was go at them and I think we did that nicely,” Henderson said of his team’s assertive performance.
Hummer and Davis were Hummer and Davis. The former finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, the latter adding 16 including three shots from behind the arc.
It was the seven second half tallies for T.J. Bray and 11 off the bench by Mack Darrow (the first Princeton player to hit double figures in 2011-12 not wearing #34 or #20 on his uniform) that eased the burden off of the Tigers’ leading scorers and carried the team to the finish line.
“It definitely helped having other guys hit shots, especially from the perimeter – it took the defense out of what they were trying to do and helps me out quite a bit by not having them in the middle of the paint,” Hummer said after Princeton’s initial victory of their campaign.
The Bulls never led and finally cut a significant Princeton advantage to single digits in the game’s waning :21.
While talented sophomore Javon McCrea did score 19 for Buffalo it didn’t come easy as he needed an inefficient 16 shots to do so.
Will Barrett won the opening tip for the Tigers but Connolly could not control the ball in the air. Connolly atoned at the end of the Bulls’ first possession, keeping grounded on defense to alter Jarod Oldham’s wild layup attempt.
It was suggested in the member comments after the NC State game that Princeton should call Connolly’s number on their first offensive possession to help build his confidence. While the ball went in to Connolly he did not force things offensively and the pass came back out to Hummer. With the ball loose on the floor Hummer controlled from his knees and was eventually able to find Davis coming free behind a slight screen on the left wing for a three.
In another welcome development, Bray looked to post the smaller Oldham defending him and take advantage of his size. Bray’s hook was short but Hummer grabbed the offensive board and put it home.
Barrett’s long jumper was off the mark, turning into a quick drive for Oldham on the move in the other direction.
A doubled Connolly found Hummer slashing for a likely layup but the ball bounced off the rim. Connolly cleaned up and was fouled, making one of two free throws.
Leading 6-4 after Auraum Nuiriankh popped for a jumper on the right baseline, the Tigers scored 12 straight over the next seven minutes to take control.
Patrick Saunders running the floor was rewarded in stride by Bray diagonally for two. While Saunders to an open Bray on the perimeter was unable to return the favor, Hummer had success his first time firing from outside.
Again good Connolly defense caused another miss inside, this from Michael Watt. Down the other end Princeton went around the horn – Saunders to Bray to Davis in the left corner for three.
When a posting Connolly moved right and spun back to his left, McCrea fouled him and Connolly made both free throws.
McCrea had been averaging 18.5 points per game heading into Saturday’s tilt but it was only at the 9:00 mark of the first half that he scored for the first time, rebounding his own miss and going back up.
That basket did little to stop what the Tigers were accomplishing. Hummer got two back with a drop step on the left baseline.
McCrea went right at Saunders and scored, drawing the senior co-captain’s second personal, but the free throw was no good for the 90% shooter at the line. The Bulls missed their first four FT attempts against Princeton.
McCrea stripped Connolly and scored on a spinning drive for a 20-10 count.
A posting Hummer tricked Titus Robinson into standing flat for a quick face up jumper, then Hummer stayed with McCrea on defense and absorbed an offensive foul, McCrea’s second.
Davis faked going to his right off the dribble, but instead went one step to his left and connected with decent difficulty from outside.
Barrett’s no look pass to Mack Darrow flipping the ball off glass from a tough angle sent Princeton up 17 with 6:02 to go.
An awesome two man offensive set where Hummer on the wing fed Darrow in the post who passed back to a cutting Hummer stopping mid-range for a pure jumper made it 29-10.
A rainbow for Saunders after Hummer drew too much attention inside and a Darrow putback of a Davis missed three had Princeton in total control.
If it were not for a lefty hook by Watt right before the halftime horn Buffalo would have gone the final 8:16 of the frame without a field goal.
“I think we were pleased with the first half,” Henderson said. “It sort of put us in a position where we felt like we had done our work.”
Hummer scored 13 and Davis 10 in the opening 20 minutes as Princeton shot 13-30 (43.3%), 5-13 outside the arc (38.5%) and 6-10 on free throws (60.0%). The Tigers had seven assists and a manageable six turnovers.
Buffalo was just 6-30 from the floor (20.0%), 0-6 from three and 4-9 at the line (44.4%). When Oldham found Nuiriankh early in the proceedings it was the Bulls’ only first half assist against 12 turnovers.
To start the vesper half Buffalo switched up their defensive gameplan. Needing to dig out of a 21 point deficit in 20 minutes will do that to you.
Princeton suffered turnovers on their first two possessions when play resumed and might have committed a third had Bray’s cross-court pass not barely made it into Davis’ hands past the reach of Zach Filzen for a long deuce.
“They started off in a 2-3 and then they went to a 1-3-1. It was an extended 2-3 and the wings were up high,” said Henderson. “You have to get the ball in the middle of the court. We got the ball in the middle of the court and turned the ball over.”
Buffalo’s wild wings would trap Princeton as soon as they could on either side of the circle. While the Tigers sometimes positioned a player to overload the zone at the free throw line, they rarely flashed a player to the center of the defense from another quadrant to compensate for the over-playing of the passing lanes.
“We saw some things in ourselves that need to be corrected, mainly hands on passes,” Henderson assessed. “When a team is playing down and they’re aggressive, you must take care of the ball. That’s what is expected of T.J. and Doug.”
Watt’s scoop underneath Connolly’s arms drew the Bulls within 39-24.
Hummer was too strong on the far block but stayed with the play to grab the ball a second time and get fouled by Watt on the other side of the rim. Watt felt like he had blocked the shot clean and he had a valid case. The decision was Watt’s fourth personal and Hummer made both free throws.
McCrea in the post went at Barrett for two.
Princeton too often settled for three point attempts versus the zone, unable to penetrate a defense they had seen little of. The Tigers took treys on five of six straight possessions. Bray, Saunders and Hummer all missed before Bray with the shot clock drawing low found Darrow in front of the Princeton bench. Darrow cocked the ball behind his head and fired for a 44-26 score, his first three pointer of the season.
“It was a little different,” Bray said of Buffalo’s second half defense. “We haven’t seen a zone like that this year with hands everywhere. You have to step back, slow down a little bit and work the ball around the zone to get the ball in the middle and figure out where you can go from there.”
The lead 14 again on another McCrea bucket, Denton Koon found Bray cutting back straight down the lane. Bray was fouled by Dave Barnett and made both his attempts.
Not only was Bray doing a superb job chasing Filzen all over the court so the Bulls’ best outside shooter could not get the small space he needed to launch with impunity but he was more aggressive in his decisions to move inside the three point arc as the game wore on.
“I just tried to stay with [Filzen] and chase him off screens,” Bray recalled. “My teammates did a great job of helping me out when I’d get picked. There were a couple times Ian stayed with him while I got back. It is really just a team effort.”
Princeton had managed only seven points in the half to this point.
“We’ve had some moments where we’re not scoring in all the games,” Henderson admitted. “We’ll have to address that – how are we going to get these points?”
A Davis drive set up Bray in the left corner for three, which was actually Davis’ first assist of the season.
When a defensive lapse by Buffalo in their 1-3-1 combined with Barrett properly approaching the overload position freed Hummer all alone by the basket, Princeton had their first dunk of the season and a 51-33 lead with 7:32 to play.
Filzen finally encountered a sliver he could work with and effortlessly converted a high arc jumper. Filzen also got a crazy amount of good fortune when throwing a shot up at the basket trying to drive directly at the far-taller Barrett. The ball rolled in for a 13 point game.
It was great to see Bray attack the Buffalo zone and flick up a one-handed lefty push shot.
The lead continued in the teens but Princeton did not do a decent job of putting the result away at the line. Hummer split a pair after fouling our Watt and Davis made both tries after being knocked down by Barnett, also his fifth and final foul.
Darrow missed the front ends of consecutive one-and-one tries. Perhaps the pressure of becoming Princeton’s third player in double figures was overwhelming. He remained stuck on nine. Koon also made one of two.
Filzen drew Buffalo within seven and fouled out Saunders in the process with a drive and flip on the left baseline.
Davis and Darrow got the verdict back on track, each with a pair of free throws in the final 17 seconds to secure the win.
The first half showed Princeton what they can ultimately be, but the second half revealed to the Tigers where they need considerable improvement. Still, the difference in performance from a week ago versus Wagner was significant.
“It is easy to build off of a loss, but I much prefer to build off of a win,” Henderson said.
If Princeton can execute and pay attention to detail like they did in the opening 20 minutes, there should be a fair number of wins in Henderson’s future.
-Princeton made 5 of 19 second half shots (26.3%) and were 18-49 overall (36.7%). The Tigers hit 7 of 24 three point tries (29.2%) and stepped up to 18-26 on free throws (69.2%) behind 12-16 success (75.0%) in the second half.
-10 second half turnovers came against four assists for Princeton. 12 of the Tigers’ 16 turnovers came off of steals.
-Buffalo shot 20-60 overall (33.3%), 2-11 from outside the arc (18.2%) and 2-19 on all jump shots (10.5%). The Bulls made 11-19 at the stripe (57.9%).
-Davis now has 203 three pointers for his career, nine behind Gabe Lewullis for third in program history. He’s shooting 10-19 (52.6%) beyond the arc.
-Hummer has scored 707 points for his career. He is on pace to exceed 1,100 total points as a junior.