Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Mack Darrow & Ian Hummer:
The line between winning and losing is on some occasions a tightrope walk.
On Wednesday night at the RAC, Princeton was able to keep their balance in the final two minutes after Rutgers had taken a one point lead.
Three days later at the DAC in Philadelphia, the Tigers slipped during the same stretch and it was Drexel who emerged victorious.
The Dragons went 10-10 from the free throw line in the final :33 after Princeton had rallied to go up one and Drexel held on for a 64-60 victory, ending the Tigers’ winning streak at three.
“I knew it was going to come down to the wire and it would hinge on a couple possessions and it did,” acknowledged Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson.
Coming from eight back with 8:12 to go, the Tigers’ offense their final few times down the floor did not execute well. Ian Hummer committed an offensive foul with his team leading by one and Douglas Davis’ pair of quick jumpers with his team trailing by a point and then by three did not hit the mark.
Each time the Dragons made Princeton pay with a pair from the stripe.
Hummer finished with 18 and Davis 15 via 19 shots.
Chris Fouch, playing his third game of the season after missing the first four with a knee injury, returned to form against Princeton. Fouch had started his junior year 2-19 from the field but regained the touch that made him Drexel’s leading scorer a season ago. Fouch tallied a game high 23 on 7-15 shooting, a perfect 7-7 on free throws.
“We were worried he was going to break out at some point,” said Henderson of Fouch. “We did not want it to be against us and it was.”
Princeton was able to disrupt two of the three things Drexel was looking to do on offense. The Dragons were never able to establish any high/low game and the Tiger guards chased Drexel’s curls behind screens enough to disrupt the flow. However, when the Dragons were able to feed the post without obstruction, Drexel scored several times one on one.
The Tigers led 4-2 in the early going. Samme Givens’ right elbow jumper was followed by Mack Darrow driving down the lane and dishing across his body to Hummer for a layup and Princeton on a break after Frantz Massenat’s miss going from Davis to Patrick Saunders to Hummer leaping and laying the ball home in one motion.
Davis’ first three point try of the game spun around the cylinder halfway down three times, then popped right back up in the air and out of the basket. Davis shook his head in disbelief.
Hummer came up with a steal at the top of the circle, picking off an Aquil Younger pass. As Hummer headed the other way, Damion Lee grabbed his jersey from behind. For reasons unbeknown, an intentional breakaway foul was not called. The Tigers didn’t get points out of the possession as Davis’ crossover three try sailed long.
T.J. Bray was able to fight off Lee in the post for two, then Daryl McCoy answered with his right hand soft off the glass.
A posting Darrow to Davis cutting down the lane made it 8-6 Tigers. Darrow was unable to extend that lead after Bray’s drive freed him outside but Massenat stepped behind a Givens screen on the left side for three of his own. Davis on the left got all three back as Princeton returned in front by a pair.
Off a Lee turnover, Hummer rose quickly on the right side for three and a 14-9 Princeton advantage, their biggest of the game.
Fouch looked to get three of those back, missing from the right wing but Denton Koon fouled the shooter late and all three free throws went down, the third or fourth time this season the freshman has fouled a three point shooter in the act.
Bray nearly banked in a three from the left corner (which is practically impossible to do) and Fouch lumbered into the lane with his left hand to even things at 14. It was part of a 9-0 Drexel run that concluded with Fouch connecting from the far corner with Bray’s hand in his face.
Hummer used a Darrow screen and curled around right to the basket, scoring off glass as Dartaye Ruffin fouled him. Hummer would miss the free throw.
John Comfort, in for the first time, was late to react and Lee launched from the right side for a 21-16 Drexel advantage.
Givens’ shimmy and hook over Saunders made it a seven point game for the first time with 3:54 left before the half.
Davis drove and passed off to Hummer on the far side. Hummer’s three point try was about as bad a miss as you’ll see, finding both the side of the backboard as well as some of the wires that hold the supports in place. Princeton’s shot selection was not great as Drexel built their three possession lead.
Hummer passed up his next look from outside, bypassing a three from the top in place of Darrow getting deep position inside.
Darrow fouled Givens on a jump step into the lane, resulting in two made three throws.
A Davis pass met Brendan Connolly inside and Connolly made a great catch while off balance and was fouled by Givens spinning up. Connolly converted both his chances.
It was 29-22 in the final minute when Davis drove right and appeared to get hacked on his arm, leaving his try short. Connolly fouled on the rebound, putting Ruffin on the line but Ruffin missed the front end of his one and one badly.
Hummer was able to sky for a reverse layup and then keep his hands straight in the air as Massenat drove into Hummer and shot from between those arms, spinning out. Saunders rebounded and took a shot to his head as time ran out. As the teams left the floor Henderson was sure to spend an extra minute conversing with the officials.
Princeton hit 10-23 in the opening frame (43.5%), with 17 of those attempts coming from either Hummer (9) or Davis (8). The Tigers were 2-10 (20.0%) on three pointers and 2-3 at the line (66.7%). Hummer (11) and Davis (7) combined for 18 of their team’s 24 points.
Drexel was 9-23 (39.1%) from the floor, an efficient 3-5 from three point range (60.0%) and 8-12 on free throws (66.7%). Fouch scored 12 for the Dragons in 11 minutes of play.
A bit of bad fortune struck Princeton on the first possession of the vesper half. Davis blocked Givens’ layup try from behind but the ball went right to Lee in the paint for a bucket. Hummer to his left fed Darrow to keep the deficit at five.
Try as Princeton might, they were unable to string together the stops needed to get any closer than three.
Saunders, who played decent post defense for the majority of the game, blocked a Ruffin shot down low and then kept his feet planted to force a hook shot short. A spinning Hummer was fouled on a scoop and made both free throws. Back within three.
Davis’ take attacking McCoy was too much and Hummer’s block of a Fouch layup was a clear goaltend.
A nice “chin” cut by Saunders as he met a Bray pass under the basket resulted in a layin, Saunders pausing for a second before placing the ball home unobstructed.
Lee’s dip in the lane under Darrow drew Drexel up five again, 35-30.
Saunders was fouled going up and made both free throws. Down to three once more.
And so it went. With Princeton playing some 1-3-1 on defense, Massenat was able to get the ball to Ruffin at the free throw line for a jumper. A stepback two for Davis sailed long and the dance between three and five points ended as Massenat drove to his left by Davis and around Saunders on the left baseline for two. The Tigers called time out.
As Massenat slipped on defense, Davis was able to get three points back off the right side.
Fouch’s deep three try rebounded high in the air and Hummer was fouled by Ruffin from behind as he grabbed the ball. Hummer to Koon deep under the rim resulted in a turnover as the off balance Koon’s pass out was met by Fouch’s hands. Connolly fouled Fouch in transition, resulting in a pair of free throws.
Now the dance dipped between four and six. Connolly cleaning up a Hummer miss that was two strong. 41-37. A righty teardrop from Fouch. 43-37. Davis to his left behind a Connolly screen for a long deuce. 43-39.
“Every time we came into the time out it was ‘you’re doing a good job on the offensive end but we need stops,’” recalled Henderson.
Hummer slapped a post entry away and Princeton had a chance to cut their deficit back to a single possession. Jimmy Sherburne drove from the right side under the Tiger basket and found Davis all alone at the top of the arc. Davis’ shot was short.
Ruffin’s layup went in over Darrow with the shot clock at one and it was a six point game again.
This couldn’t continue for the final 10 minutes of the contest and it didn’t.
Koon tipped in a Darrow drive weakside with his left hand for a 45-41 count. Darrow found Koon on a good cut but Koon lost the ball off his body. Givens with his left over Hummer was followed by a forced Davis jumper that went long. Givens bodied Hummer inside and when Hummer was staggered momentarily Givens attacked a second time and scored. Drexel by eight.
Darrow moved in from the right elbow and drew Ruffin’s fourth foul with 7:59 showing, making both free throws. Bray posted Fouch and showed good control turning and scoring. Massenat could not convert a scoop which Darrow deftly tipped up to Hummer. Darrow then faked a hand off screen and turned 90 degrees to the basket for an easy drive. Princeton within two.
Fouch’s laser of a hook shot went in over Saunders. Davis got in the lane with a nice move but Givens rushed over for a clean block. Darrow was too strong going to his right and out of the post Givens found Fouch for three up top, Drexel’s only trey of the second half. It was a seven point lead again, 54-47 with 4:45 to go. Princeton called time.
This would prove to be Drexel’s final field goal of the game. The Tigers had one final push in them and it was nearly enough to pull out the win. As Bray tried to receive a lob in the post, Fouch fouled him and Bray made one of two at the line. Following a lefty hook by Givens that went in and out, Hummer quickly attacked the rim and was bodied by Givens going for the block. Hummer also made one of two.
Ruffin fouled out setting an illegal screen to free a curling Fouch, giving the ball back to Princeton. Bray in the post went around Fouch for a 54-51 score.
A deeeeeeeeeeeeeep three point try from Fouch sailed off to the right and Bray rebounded. Inside Hummer was able to jump stop to his left and rattle in a left handed hook. Now it was Drexel’s turn to take a time out with 2:33 to go and Princeton within one.
Connolly in to protect the post did his job. He took Givens out of his comfort zone and McCoy’s tip would not drop. As Princeton spread the floor, Bray was able to possess the entirety of the rectangle and was fouled by Fouch before the entry pass came. Bray went to the line and made both his tries. The Tigers were in front for the first time since halfway into the first half.
More quality defense resulted in Fouch’s right hook going long into Darrow’s hands. With 1:06 on the game clock and :15 seconds on the shot clock, Henderson called time to get Davis back on the floor in place of Sherburne.
Hummer drove from the arc to his left and was cut off, resulting in a clear offensive foul.
The junior put the blame on himself. “A bad decision,” he said. “The play was designed for me to go to the basket and I think I was far enough away that once I started driving they knew what was going on. My basketball IQ should have kicked in and I should have kicked it to Mack in the corner and pulled up before the offensive foul.”
For Drexel, the whistle was the result of a conversation midway through the game.
“We talked at halftime that once Hummer gets going he doesn’t stop on a dime,” Dragons head coach Brusier Flint said. “Take some charges.”
Up one with the ball, Sherburne came back in for Davis on defense. Sherburne stayed with Massenat and looked like he had pulled off first a five second violation and then a travel but when Massenat got inside the arc the only whistle was for contact. Massenat made both sides of the one and one to give Drexel a 56-55 lead with :33.4 showing.
Davis’ supreme confidence in his shot can be a detriment on rare occasions. As Davis brought the ball up the floor he tugged on his jersey. It was clear possession was never leaving his hands. Instead of holding for the last look of the frame, Davis drove into the lane and tried a short jumper that was off to the left. Lee was fouled by Connolly on the rebound and it was Lee’s turn to convert both ends of a one and one. Now down three with :24.2 to go, Davis again called his own number, a rainbow on the right wing to tie not connecting. Lee once more rebounded and made it a five point game. The ball never went in the circle and the ball never found Hummer’s hands.
“We were putting a point of emphasis of getting the ball inside because they just couldn’t stop us and I would have liked to have seen the ball go inside,” Henderson admitted.
Hummer’s drive from midcourt made it a 60-57 score before two more Massenat free throws. Davis finally hit from deep on the left side to make it a two point game with :02.1 showing but Massenat put the result away with two free throws in the final second.
In a physical game where Drexel attempted 24 free throws, Flint understood his team had been geographically fortunate to emerge victorious. “If we were playing this game on the road we don’t win it,” he said.
Henderson was even more succinct and perhaps even more accurate with a four word summary of Princeton's balancing act.
“We had our opportunities.”
-Princeton shot 12-24 in the second half (50.0%) and 22-47 for the game (46.8%). By making two of their four three point tries in the final 20 minutes they finished 4-14 from three point range (28.6%). The Tigers were a season best 12-15 on free throws (80.0%).
-Drexel shot 20-51 from the floor (39.2%), 4-10 from three (40.0%) and did their greatest damage at the line with a 20-24 clip (83.3%).
-Princeton was 14-17 on layups and tips, Drexel 6-14.
-Drexel grabbed 30.3% of all available offensive rebounds.
-Davis has only attempted more field goals once in his collegiate career and that was in his very first game, 10-21 from the floor versus Central Michigan. Davis tried 19 shots on one other occasion, 6-19 in a 46-42 win over Monmouth as a sophomore.
-Will Barrett missed his second straight game and it does not sound like he’ll be back in uniform anytime soon. “He’s getting one more opinion on Tuesday,” Henderson said. “He’s likely on crutches for a while.”
-A moment of silence was held before the game for Ann Bates, wife of current Princeton and former Drexel lacrosse coach Chris Bates, who passed away in late November after a near-decade long battle versus cancer.