Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, T.J. Bray & Patrick Saunders:
Princeton opened their first trip to Matthews Arena listless and out of sorts. The final 20 minutes however, were anything but.
Trailing Northeastern 34-30 midway through after falling behind by as many as nine in the early-going, the Tigers opened the back frame on a 15-2 run and made their free throws down the stretch to earn their fifth win in six tries and even their overall record.
Ian Hummer had his nearly-taken-for granted-at-this-point 20 point performance but it was the complementary support of Patrick Saunders, T.J. Bray and Mack Darrow that led to this victory.
Saunders scored a season high 13 on 3-4 shooting from three point range in front of a throng of friends and family.
Bray continued his super play of late with 12, besting his career high set on Wednesday at Rider by one. Bray would have again played all possible minutes if not for a brief period on the bench late following a dinged knee taking a charge.
Darrow added 10 and five assists versus no turnovers.
“This is not ‘Ian & The Other Guys,’ we’re not that team at all,” said Tiger head coach Mitch Henderson.
“I was really pleased with the way [Bray and Saunders] and Brendan Connolly started to assert themselves,” Henderson added. “They showed that they’re a huge piece of this team too.”
Princeton made 67% of their shots in the second half, 3-5 from three point range and 14-18 on the line.
Jonathan Lee had 14, one of three Huskies in double figures.
Northeastern was able to establish their post game to take an early lead. Reggie Spencer drove to his right and spun into the lane for two. Following a pair of Saunders free throws, fouled after being fed by Hummer on a cut, Spencer posted up and then squared a jumper over Darrow.
Douglas Davis didn’t have many touches on the game’s initial possessions, but he did rise on the right side for three to make it 5-4 Tigers. It would prove Davis’ only basket of the contest.
Kashief Edwards spun at Saunders and scored off the glass for two more inside. Lee’s too easy drive from the top of the arc made it a three point lead or the home team. Seconds later Spencer would head to the bench when he fouled Hummer facing him up. He would not return until after intermission.
Like the rest of Princeton, Hummer struggled to find his rhythm. He traveled on an inbounds and left a lefty hook short in the post.
Davis lost the ball in the backcourt when bodied by Quincy Ford and Ford had an unobstructed path to a two hand dunk. Davis threw away a pass for his second consecutive turnover. As Princeton settled into a zone on defense for the first time Ford sprung open on the left side for three and a 13-5 Northeastern lead.
That advantage stood at the same size following Ryan Pierson’s awkward hook in the lane. Bray got two back curling a shot up on a drive prior to Joel Smith’s triple off the right wing. Princeton called time out down by nine.
The message in the huddle was simple, the sentiment unanimous.
“It was an easy correction,” recalled Henderson. “We just said ‘Hey. This isn’t us. What’s going on here?’”
Following this pause, Princeton ran off 10 straight. Denton Koon cleaned up a shot Hummer took without looking at the rim for his only points. Koon improved his shooting in the last five games to an almost impossible 18-21 with the basket.
Pierson’s left elbow jumper bounded in and out and at the other end a posting Bray turned and sealed off his man for two. As Princeton started to send Bray down low more, the offense ran better.
Off a miss from Alwayne Bigby, the long outlet came to Darrow who fed Hummer trailing once he regained possession on the sideline.
Smith traveled as Princeton tried to trap the wings and Bray had an easy hoop when Smith fell guarding him in the post. The Tigers were within one.
Hummer read a passing lane and darted the other way, his lefty drive off but Darrow was on the spot to place it home.
Northeastern went back in front for a moment on Edwards’ short jumper over Saunders, preceding Jimmy Sherburne’s hesitation clutch in the lane for his first field goal of the year, just the third basket of his career and his first hoop since the end of last season’s home win over Cornell.
Bray stole the ball and found Hummer. Hummer went back to Bray who bobbled and was stripped by Lee, resulting in Kauri Black’s dunk the other way. Princeton put Davis on the left elbow with the ball, stepping out to the wing for a three that came up shot. No Tiger picked up Ford in front of the Princeton bench and he made it 25-21 Huskies.
Saunders’ three from the top ripped the twine.
Bray slapped the ball loose inside but possession came to Lee for a jumper on the far side.
At the other side of the hockey rink turned basketball court Bray lobbed an entry pass for Connolly that was tipped up into the air and accidentally through the rim. Connolly got credit for the bucket because he was the closest Princeton player to the rim but the “shot” never reached his hands.
Hummer blocked Pierson from behind inside and controlled, rewarded by Sherburne on a skip pass for a long two, his foot on the arc. The Tigers were down 29-28 with 2:13 to go.
Pierson tried a three, which was rebounded by Lee. Ford faked a three and stepped into a long two.
A chaotic sequence that saw a Bray pick up a loose ball off several deflections in the backcourt, only to lose what he had as Ford saved possession over the baseline and eventually deliver a three to Ford made it 34-28. Hummer went all the way to the rim for the half’s final basket.
Midway through Princeton was shooting 12-27 (44.4%), 2-6 from three (33.3%) and 2-2 on the line. Hummer scored eight on 4-10 shooting. The Tigers had 10 first half turnovers, several of which came on sloppy fast break attempts.
Northeastern converted 14-29 attempts (48.3%), 4-9 from deep (44.4%) and were also 2-2 on free throws. Ford’s 10 led all scorers.
When play resumed the two teams evenly split six empty possessions. On one giveaway a pass by Davis was so low it hit Darrow in the foot and deflected straight up off his face and out of bounds. Ouch.
Hummer’s drive to the left freed Darrow up top for a three that drew Princeton within one. A long two by Hummer out of the left corner, his foot again on the line, provided the Tigers with a lead they would not relinquish the final 16:31.
Off a Davis steal, Bray found Saunders up top for a rainbow that drew a large cheer from his sizable local fan base.
Reggie Spencer snaked into the Princeton zone for two, which Bray countered, flipping the ball in over his head off a Darrow feed.
When Northeastern’s defense sagged on a cut, Saunders had plenty of space to take a Hummer pass for his third deep jumper of the game and Princeton had a 43-36 lead with 14:51 left. To make his day even better, Saunders took a charge from Black on the defensive end.
“The key the game was the start of the second half,” Henderson stated. “Patrick’s two threes gave us a bit of a cushion.”
“It it always nice to make shots when you have a lot of people here watching,” Saunders said sheepishly.
The Huskies extended their pressure into the backcourt and Hummer was able to do work off the free throw line once the ball reached the friendlier side of the floor. His pass to Connolly cutting to the basket resulted in a gigantic two handed dunk as Bigby fouled him, a loud finish to a 15-2 run. Connolly missed his free throw but the Princeton lead had returned to nine.
Northeastern cut their deficit down to three on a pair of occasions but weren’t able to stop the Tigers for long enough.
Around the horn passing to Smith in the corner made it 47-44 but Connolly posting found Saunders cutting who was fouled as he scooped up a shot from his knees. Saunders made both free throws.
When Spencer’s free throw jumper made it 49-46, Hummer to Connolly on a press break may not have resulted in a second dunk (Connolly was fouled trying the slam) but it did end in another pair of successful free throws.
Slowly Princeton inched away. Hummer to Darrow curling off glass and a foul made it 54-47.
Lee responded with a hesitation drive he clutched in the air with his left hand. Sherburne’s take into traffic was wild, so Hummer tipped it home.
When Bray successfully posted up Smith it was a nine point game with 6:46 left.
Hummer poked the ball away from Ford and was off to make it 62-51.
Bray took a charge off Ford in the lane but had to leave the game for the first time since the Drexel game last Sunday when he came up gimp. He was back in the lineup 17 seconds later.
As Bray’s sophomore year has progressed, he’s grown more self-assured running the offense. Bray is now a player that Henderson can’t afford to give much rest.
“The confidence has definitely been going up a little bit,” said the sophomore from Wisconsin. “That comes from my teammates and the coaching staff. They’re behind me 100%. When your teammates and coaches are behind you it makes everything so much easier.
Princeton had two possessions that could have probably iced Northeastern’s spirit for good but Davis traveled as he moved his feet on an inbounds pass and Koon carried the ball attempting to dribble.
Smith drifted to his right for a three at the top to pull his team within 62-54 but keepaway on offense, 7-8 free throw shooting and a Hummer dunk kept the Huskies leashed.
It took 20 minutes for their offense to come on, but when it did, Princeton’s D was waiting for support.
“Our defense has carried us in every game. We’re always going to hang our hat on the defensive end,” Henderson said. “When we didn’t turn it over we were able to score efficiently. That’s a key for us too.”
Like they have done with their season to get back to .500 after a 1-5 beginning, Princeton turned another poor beginning into something promising.
-Buoyed by their best shooting half of the season, Princeton was a season best 25-46 for the game (54.3%), 5-11 from three (45.4%) and 16-20 on free throws (80.0%). The Tigers tied their season best at the line.
-Northeastern made 24-48 attempts (50.0%), 6-13 from deep (46.2%) and 8-14 at the line (57.1%).
-It was a sloppy game overall. Princeton had 19 turnovers, Northeastern 20. 28.2% of the Tigers’ possessions ended in TOs, as did 29.6% of the Huskies’.
-Despite all the giveaways, Mack Darrow’s assist-to-turnover ratio improved to 34:11.
-Connolly continued his slow tick upward with a second decent effort to build off the Rider game. He provided six points on 2-2 shooting in 21 minutes of action.
-Sherburne’s three points are a career high.
-Saunders required four stitches to his head getting accidentally hit in the face late in the game.
-I’m not sure I’ve seen collegiate cheerleaders wearing the jerseys of the local NFL team before. Such is the power of the New England Patriots.