Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Ian Hummer & Denton Koon:
As Princeton played repeated second half possessions of superb switching defense, five attentive Tigers working together around Lafayette screens and disrupting the Leopards’ passing lanes with their length, head coach Mitch Henderson noticed something else happening at the other end of the floor.
“By creating some turnovers and getting some easy hoops, I felt like all of a sudden we started making shots in the half court,” Henderson said following a 69-54 Princeton victory. “The pressure just went away, the guys relaxed and took what they gave us.”
Shooting the basketball has been an issue for the tense Tigers in their first seven games, but on Wednesday night Princeton made 68% of their attempts in the final 20 minutes, a stellar 14-18 inside the arc.
A 16-5 run sparked by the defense and capped off by Ian Hummer’s emphatic one handed dunk down the center of the lane turned a tie ball game into one controlled by the homestanding orange and black.
Hummer scored 16 of his game high 23 after intermission as Princeton built as large as an 18 point advantage.
Douglas Davis added 15 for the Tigers along with four steals and freshman Denton Koon came off the bench for a career high 13 on 6-7 shooting.
Ryan Willen was the only Leopard in double figures, totaling 16.
The game’s first five minutes had all the harbingers of other frustrating losses this season.
Turnovers! Mack Darrow was stripped a little too easily by J.D. Pelham. Davis threw a pass so far over Patrick Saunders’ head he didn’t even make a cursory leap to try and stop it from sailing into the stands.
Poor post defense! Willen was able to get decent looks in the paint and he converted all of these touches. A combination of bank shots, spin moves and hooks over Darrow and Hummer provided Lafayette an 8-2 lead.
Enamorment with the three point shot! Following a left baseline jumper by Hummer that evened the score two apiece, the Tigers fired four consecutive times from outside and missed each attempt (two by Hummer, two by Davis) before Hummer went around Seth Hinrichs for a pair.
Davis had steals on three straight Lafayette possessions. First his help defense on Willen inside knocked the ball loose. Davis pushed the tempo with Hummer on his right but was unable to complete a difficult drive.
The next time the Leopards had the ball Davis read a lane across the floor and picked off a Dan Trist pass for a coast to coast layup ahead of the defense.
Davis’ third steal was finished with an equally fine decision to Koon on the left block for a lay in. The game was even at eight.
The Tigers kept within one possession of Lafayette but found it difficult to grab a lead. Down 13-9 when Nick Petkovich fired a soft three point shot over Brendan Connolly, Princeton answered with another Koon layup, set up by Will Barrett faking a shot and dishing inside instead. A crossover jumper by Davis that sailed through the rim as the shot clock expired created the game’s third tie.
Connolly continued to struggle whenever he touched the ball. A simple entry pass by Hummer bounced off Connolly’s mitts and out of bounds. When Connolly made a one on one post move he could not convert a bank shot and then left his put back short.
Koon tried to save a loose ball on the Lafayette side of the court through his legs as he ran into his team’s bench but possession came back to the Leopards and Joey Ptasinski fired from the other side of the arc for a 20-15 count.
A couple of unselfish possessions put the Tigers in front for the first time. Darrow at the free throw line found Barrett squared on the right wing for three. Rob Delaney’s drive rolled off the rim, then Darrow across the lane set up T.J. Bray on the far side of the arc.
The scoreboard was even at 24 in the final two minutes of the half. The smaller Les Smith ripped a rebound out of Barrett’s hands and the end result was Petkovich at the top for three. Davis came up short on a tying try but Hummer leapt high in the air to put the ball back home.
A drive by Davis in the half’s final seconds got Bray open on the right side but his attempt was short of its target and Lafayette left the floor leading by one.
In the first half the Leopards shot 12-26 (46.2%), were 3-8 from three point range (37.5%) and did not attempt a free throw. Willen had 10 points, but eight came in the game’s first 4:05.
Princeton continued their shooting woes, 11-30 overall (36.7%), 2-13 from three (15.4%) and 2-4 on free throws (50.0%). The Tigers were helped by nine offensive boards, three each for Hummer and Koon, who both also had seven points.
The second half began on an ignominious note. Princeton had done a nice job to this point on Lafayette leading scorer Jim Mower, who came in averaging 20+ points per game. Mower had no trouble driving to his left off the glass without obstruction to take the Leopard lead up to three.
With Bray posting, Princeton was able to string together three nice possessions. After Hummer rebounded a quick Saunders three try, Bray on the block found Darrow outside for a tying three pointer.
Delaney hit a lovely right elbow jumper before a cutting Hummer freed up Bray in front of the Princeton bench and Darrow set him up for a three point shot and a 32-31 Tiger lead.
Willen set a pick for Mower and popped to the left, firing one in from the wing for three.
Again the offense went through Bray in the post, finding Hummer cutting on the other side of the basket, fouled by Pelham as he scored. Hummer missed his free throw and the game was even at 34.
Mower drifted and drove for two on the left side. Bray inbounding under the Princeton basket found Hummer for an easy two and the game’s eighth tie.
A Delaney three point attempt came out long off the rim to Hummer who drove and was bodied by Mower as he went up. Hummer made both of his ties and Princeton took a lead they would not relinquish with 13:53 to go.
Davis’ fourth steal started the offense and Koon lobbed a pass to a posting Hummer who finished on the other side of the rim.
Sure, Mower stopped the momentum when he drove on Koon and scooped one home while fouled for a three point play but the defensive intensity from the Tigers continued to ratchet higher.
Davis started the offense with his back to the basket at the free throw line, passed out to Bray and popped open on the other side for three. Mower couldn’t finish a drive and again Hummer got out early for a little dipsy-doo layup of his own and a 45-39 Tiger lead as Lafayette called time out.
Barrett blocked a Willen jumper back in his face and a Princeton deflection left Lafayette out of position with the ball. Finally Willen went to a hook with five on the shot clock that sailed long.
Out of a “Chin” set Bray cut behind a screener and turned that cut into a post opportunity, fouled as he turned to the basket with the ball. Bray made one of his two chances.
With the Tigers up five after a Willen bucket over Bray and the ball back in Lafayette’s hands following an offensive foul by an out of control Koon, Davis poked Delaney’s drive away from behind. Bray threw a long outlet pass over Hummer’s head that he was able to track down under the Tiger basket. A quick flick up at the rim did not go but a trailing Koon raced in to slam the ball home with two hands.
Barrett, who played his finest game of the season on Wednesday, an “X Factor” who can impact the game without scoring, fed Hummer for a deep positioned layup.
Bray knocked the ball away from Hinrichs and Barrett on the baseline saw Hummer trailing the action. I thought Hummer was too far from the basket for this to even be possible but in one motion Hummer caught the ball, took a long stride, got in the air and sailed forward for a one hand jam. Lafayette used another time out, now behind 52-41.
Trist’s right baseline jumper bounded off the iron four times before dropping. Koon was there to pick off Trist the next time Lafayette had the ball and he was in the clear for a breakaway slam. A quick Bray steal of Trist and Koon had another bucket in close.
It will be difficult for Henderson to keep Koon off the floor for long stretches if he continues to play like he did during most his 22 minutes versus Lafayette. “It is a lot easier to feel comfortable when everyone is playing together and you have a defensive intensity and mindset where the whole team is one unit,” the freshman from Liberty, MO said.
Lafayette drew within nine as Koon fouled Ptasinski on a three point shot from the top of the arc and Ptasinski made all three free throws. Bray out of the post found Davis for a quick jumper inside the line and Barrett fouled hard as he came out of the post added a free throw. The lead was not going under double figures again.
The verdict decided, Princeton saw no reason to stop running their offense sharply. Hummer to Bray reversing. Davis with a crossover on Willen and a long jumper as the shot clock ticked to two. Barrett with a steal and a two hand finish to take the lead up to its apex of 18 in the final minute.
“I was very pleased with patience in the second half of committing to getting the shot that we want,” Henderson assessed. “I thought there were some questionable decisions in the first half where we could have pulled away.”
Delaney’s triple was followed by Henderson’s five man substitution for the night’s final two possessions.
Henderson liked what he saw. “We looked like a team,” he said. “Tonight I thought for the most part it was a group of guys who were playing for each other. It is a passionate game and we had some life and energy.”
“The Brain” and “The X Factor” were huge positives. Bray’s heady nine points, six assists, three rebounds, two steals and no turnovers is exactly what you hope he can provide. Barrett put up six points, pulled down eight rebounds, handed out four assists, blocked three shots matching up with smaller guards and had three steals in 28 minutes. Lafayette had no player they could counter Bray’s length with. The game comes much easier to both of the Tigers’ primary scoring options with this level of support.
When points had been so hard to come by, Princeton had functioned like a team that could be deflated by a single unsuccessful offensive possession. There was a needless gravity to each trip down the floor. The Tigers played a completely different game on Wednesday. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their performance was the better because of it.
“I liked the energy level,” said Henderson. “We looked long. We tipped passes. We kept the ball out of the post. We talked about swagger and it looked like we had it.”
-Princeton finished the game a season-best 50.9% from the floor on 28-55 shooting. Three point shooting (5-20, 25.0%) and free throw shooting (8-14, 57.1%) remained concerns, even in a decisive victory.
-The Tigers were overall a much better 19-25 on dunks and layups (76.0%). Their effective field goal percentage in the second half was 74.0%.
-Lafayette shot 21-49 for the game (42.9%), 6-17 from three (35.3%) and 6-8 on free throws (75.0%).
-Grabbing 15 offensive boards (four each for Darrow, Hummer and Koon), Princeton outrebounded the Leopards 35-24. The Tigers snatched 50.0% of all possible offensive rebounds.
-The game was played at a season low 58 possessions. The Tigers scored 1.19 points per possession.
-Hummer passed his father Ed on the Princeton scoring list with a second half layup and the junior from Vienna, VA now has 791 points compared to his dad’s 786. He’s still 240 points behind his uncle John who had 1,031 for his career. “I wanted to do it in three seasons like [my dad] did,” Hummer said with a grin. “If I did it in four he would put an asterisk on that one.”
-Good to see the Princeton band make their first appearance at a men’s basketball game this season. I enjoyed their rendition of the Muppet Show theme.
-Clay Wilson did not suit up for the Tigers, out with a slight shoulder injury suffered in practice. His status is day-to-day.