Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson:
Postgame audio - Mack Darrow & T.J. Bray:
In many respects, Princeton’s coaches and players are looking for the same thing, but neither is currently able to find what they’re seeking.
Head coach Mitch Henderson is in a quest for someone to disrupt his team’s complacency and today’s 68-56 loss to Morehead State may have driven the first year head man to make more drastic and immediate personnel modifications as part of his search.
“Who is the guy that is going to make us win games? Boy, we’re really searching for that right now,” Henderson said after his team’s fifth loss in six contests. “I think you’ll see a different look from us [tomorrow against West Alabama] because we need a change.”
After a low scoring first half where both teams were able to perform as they desired defensively, Princeton with man to man tendencies in the half court and Morehead State pressing all over the floor before dropping into a zone, the Eagles were able to speed up the Tigers in the back 20 minutes as they slowly turned a 20-18 lead into a 14 point edge with 13:19 remaining.
Center Mack Darrow is looking for leadership, which rightfully should be coming from himself and his fellow upperclassmen.
“You can’t have your head coach being the guy setting the tone,” said Darrow, “He can only do so much, we’ve got to go out and play the game.”
Darrow was particularly frustrated with the way his team played defense in the second stanza allowing Morehead State to build their double digit advantage.
“We started letting them go places with the ball we don’t normally let people go,” Darrow said. “They were going to the middle uncontested. It was a brutal second half defensively.”
The Eagles’ Milton Chavis was one of the players Princeton could not stop from driving. With the score 25-23 following an Ian Hummer basket inside and subsequent missed free throw, Chavis drove left at Will Barrett, stopped and spun around to hook in a pair.
Chavis faced up Barrett on Morehead State’s next possession and dropped a soft jumper over him. Barrett came up short on the left wing and Chavis again penetrated, this time to his right as Barrett committed the foul. When John Comfort facing pressure threw the ball away under his own hoop to Deandre Mathieu for an easy layup Princeton was reeling down 10.
Sophomore guard T.J. Bray’s three point shot off the left wing finally drew the Tigers back within single digits at 40-32 with 9:57 left.
Bray is looking for the fire. “They started making that run and we kind of just laid down a little bit,” Bray admitted. “We have to slow down and get the shots we want instead of letting them dictate what they want to do.”
Princeton took an unexpectedly long time to find the desperation necessary to mount a legitimate comeback, but flying all over the hardwood late they were able to cut a double figure hole to six with the ball in the final minute.
It was 50-36 Eagles with 5:54 showing. Ben Hazel out of the left corner from Bray for three was followed by Bray driving from the arc, fouled by Drew Kelly as he scored. Bray missed the free throw, one of three misses in as many attempts by Bray on the day.
A drive by Lamont Austin set up Terrance Hill for a killer triple, but Princeton kept hope on the table. The Tigers fouled the Eagles as soon as they could on each possession to extend the game. Still down 10 with 88 seconds to go, Denton Koon laid home a John Comfort feed as a passerby jostled him for the three point play.
The score stood 60-54 before Comfort went up and down with the ball trying to body into the lane and Morehead State sealed their deserved result at the free throw line.
“We waited too long,” Henderson acknowledged. “As I said to the guys: ‘You want to know what it is like to play Princeton Basketball? Take a look at the five or six minutes at the end. That’s how hard you’ve got to play all the time.”
Henderson did not hesitate keeping Douglas Davis on the bench for the game’s final fourteen minutes as Bray, Hazel, Comfort and even freshman Clay Wilson saw time in the backcourt. Wilson was not shy with his shot, firing twice from three in the first 80 seconds of his collegiate career.
“It was like there were two seconds left in the game when he checked in, but he’s got some life and we need it right now,” Henderson said of the energetic, bouncy Wilson.
“Clay and Denton [Koon] come in and they play desperate and they play hungry,” Henderson continued. “That’s something the rest of us really need to do.”
Hummer again led Princeton, this time with 12 points and eight rebounds. Hummer had to sit the final 10 minutes of the first half after recording his second personal foul on a charge.
Hill’s 16 paced the Eagles, who evened their record at 3-3.
In the first half the Morehead State pressure did not turn over the Tigers as much as it made them take longer to get into their offense. Subtracting 8-10 seconds from a 35 second shot clock provides less time to survey and find holes in a zone that moves from side to side following the movement of the ball.
Similarly the Eagles were unaccustomed to being chased all over their side of the floor for a full possession. Bray in particular helped limit Hill’s touches by tracking him sideline to sideline.
When Princeton was able to overload the zone, it gave Patrick Saunders some point blank chances. Hummer in the middle found Saunders turning for a short jumper. A posting Hummer drew the defense and fed Brendan Connolly on the opposite block for his only bucket of the game and a 6-3 Tiger lead. The two teams stayed stuck on that score for the next 4:59 until Marsell Holden drifted behind a screen on the left wing for a three point shot.
Two Darrow free throws and Davis basket after he stole the ball from Chavis and curled off a drive attempt to knock down a short jumper put Princeton up 10-6.
Hummer versus the press kept the ball in his hand and tried to create a numerical advantage down the lane. All he got in return was an offensive foul, his second personal and a trip to the bench for the rest of the half. Hummer slapped his seat loudly before sitting in it.
Crisp passing by Bray to Barrett to Saunders resulted in an interior bucket before a Hill drive into the far corner freed Chavis for three and when the ball sailed through Morehead led 17-14. Bray found Saunders inside, hit by Kelly under his arms and Saunders converted both free throws.
A well-defended Hill struck a three point jumper with the shot clock about to expire, then an aggressively-posting Darrow was fouled by Kelly going up and made both attempts.
Barrett’s long deuce was off the mark at the horn and Morehead had a two point lead at the break.
Princeton shot 6-19 as a team (31.6%) and 0-8 on three point tries. The Tigers went a perfect 6-6 on free throws however. Despite two 10 second violations versus the press Princeton only committed six turnovers.
Morehead State hit 7-16 attempts (43.8%), 4-7 outside (57.1%) and 2-4 at the line (50.0%). Hill worked hard for his eight points to lead the Eagles.
Henderson did not mince words in his postgame evaluation. “It was a very disappointing result again. We’re not taking advantage of opportunities so we have to make an adjustment,” he said. “I think you’ll probably see some lineup changes. The guys that are in there at the end of the game - It is easy to play when you’re down, but that seems to me the team that has some life and we need an inordinate amount of life right now.”
“We’re 1-5 with guys who play a lot of minutes. We need a different look.”
The search continues tomorrow afternoon for where that needed energy will come from.
-Princeton’s shooting percentage increased in the second half (14-34, 41.2%) to finish 20-53 overall (37.7%) but the Tigers had 10 second half turnovers.
-Davis’ left wing three, set up by Connolly at the free throw line drew Princeton within 23-21 early in the second half. It ended a stretch of eight straight outside misses for the orange and black and started the Tigers on comparatively better but still poor 5-17 marksmanship (29.4%) in the final 20 minutes.
-Princeton reverted to 5-10 free throw shooting in the second half (50.0%). Bray opened the frame missing a pair at the line after Hill fouled him on the body going for a blocked layup.
-The Eagles shot 13-24 in the second half (54.2%) and 20-40 overall (50.0%), they hit 6-11 three point tries (54.5%) and 22-29 free throws as Princeton repeatedly fouled in the backcourt (75.9%).
-All eight of Saunders' points occurred in the first half.
-Chris Clement came off the bench for the first time in 2011-12, playing the final 20 seconds of the second half.
-The win was Morehead State’s first versus a DI opponent this season. The Eagles return only five players from last season’s NCAA Tournament team that lost to Richmond in the Round of 32.