Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson:
With what had been a double digit lead cut to four after a three point play by Florida A&M’s Amin Stevens more than 12 minutes into the second half, Princeton scored 16 straight to regain control of their first game of 2012.
“Eventually our defense started to help us score and get a little more balance on the offensive end,” said head coach Mitch Henderson.
Winning for the second time in a New Year's Eve-spanning trip to Tallahassee, the Tigers (8-7) moved over .500 for the first time this season as they defeated the Rattlers 76-61.
Four Princeton players hit double figures with Douglas Davis’ 18 leading the way.
Ian Hummer added 15, T.J. Bray connected four times from three point distance on his way to 14 and freshman Denton Koon matched his career high with 13 – all from point blank range.
After falling behind 11-4 to start the day, Princeton pulled even on a Hummer three with 8:57 left and extended an advantage up to 35-23 on Patrick Saunders’ three point shot which hit the front rim and dropped.
Davis passed Sean Jackson for second place on Princeton’s career three point shooting list with his 236th trey, one quarter of a stretch that was a 12-0 run. Davis needs 43 additional triples to overtake assistant coach Brian Earl for most as a Tiger.
Facing a team with no Divison I victories that was ranked at or very close to the bottom of all three major ranking services, the worst thing Princeton could do was start slow and give Florida A&M hope that coming off a 10 day holiday break this game would be different.
But it was the Rattlers who countered Ian Hummer’s lefty floater with 11 of the next 13 points to go up seven, capped off by Reggie Lewis popping free outside for three.
“I think it was natural,” Henderson said of his team’s play from jump. “We talked about it. We tried to protect against it but Ian and Doug played so many significant minutes. It was a bit of a slow start but we were facing a team that had a lot of time off.”
Brendan Connolly found Davis camped outside for his 235th career three and after a pair of missed FAMU jumpers Hummer curled to the rim and was fouled by Stevens, making one of two.
Connolly screened Davis for a jumper that was off target. Koon was there for the rebound and tipped it home.
Markee Teal sandwiched a fadeaway and a free throw jumper around a Connolly hook shot for a 15-12 Florida A&M advantage, which Hummer erased with a jumper out of the corner as the shot clock hit three.
It was the nascent stage of a 12-2 Princeton run. Saunders found Bray reversing for two. Reggie Lewis’ no look pass resulted in a long Teel deuce before Koon laid in a backdoor feed from Bray.
Teal was whistled for an illegal screen and Davis weaved his way to the rim for a pair.
Mack Darrow connected from up top for a 24-17 count, then Lewis knocked down a jumper over Koon.
Bray, who has established great chemistry with Davis the past three games, found his backcourt partner for three.
Davis picked up a steal and Saunders to Darrow on a reverse inside made it a 10 point Tiger advantage.
The lead extended to a half-high 12 on Saunders’ three off a Hummer assist.
Koon cleaning up a shot by Connolly that was blocked with three on the possession clock sent Princeton off the floor leading 40-30.
With several fouls to give in the final 20 seconds, Henderson inserted Chris Clement to foul and between he and Jimmy Sherburne Princeton was able to inch a few remaining seconds off the clock and keep Florida A&M off the scoreboard.
Princeton had its best shooting first half of the season in 2012’s opening 20 minutes, making 16-29 chances (55.2%), 6-12 from three point range (50.0%) and 2-3 on free throws (66.7%). The Tigers had 10 assists compared to five turnovers. Seven different Princeton players scored in the half.
Florida A&M made 12-27 attempts (44.4%), 2-3 from three (66.7%) and a perfect 4-4 at the line. Lewis’ 10 led all scorers.
Lewis and Bray traded treys when play resumed, with Hummer adding a single free throw as he was fouled off a pass from Bray.
Another three by Lewis as a rebound was tapped his way after Jeremy Dean missed on the other side of the arc drew A&M within 44-38. Davis found Bray stepping in to a three to lift Princeton back up nine. When the Tigers finally return to Jadwin Gym next week, keep an eye on how each of these players finds the other on the perimeter.
“We’ve talked to those two guys about it,” Henderson acknowledged. “They need to enjoy each other’s company. We sort of joked that we should see those two guys together all the time. They need to be on the same wavelength and they’re getting there. It is going to be pretty good when they’re on the same page.”
The Rattlers kept closing in on Princeton’s once comfortable lead. More troubling, the smaller FAMU lineup did it by dominating the Tigers on the glass. In a stretch that included five offensive rebounds, Dean, D’Andre Bullard and Dean again tipped home teammates’ misses and it was suddenly a 47-46 game with 14:37 left.
Hummer stopped the run with a free throw jumper and on Princeton’s next possession Hummer drove left with three on the shot clock for a 51-46 count.
A long left side jumper for Yannick Crowder drew his squad within one possession but Davis on the left wing doubled Princeton’s edge.
Davis’ steal and attack led to a jumper on the break and Princeton looked to be regaining their control but Stevens’ drive was allowed to continue as Saunders fouled him for a three point play. There was 7:58 showing and the Tiger lead had been reduced to 59-55.
The tenor of the game about-faced, and quickly. Henderson credited the defense of both Connolly and Koon during the final fifth. “Once those two clicked,” he said “the game changed.”
Davis blocked Avery Moore’s three point try and when Saunders cut to the rim it freed Bray on the wing who took a Davis pass and fired in a three.
Koon was fouled on a give and go from Connolly and made both free throws.
Florida A&M continued to come up long on their jumpers, a Stevens miss followed by an aggressive Hummer fouled on his drive as he scored. Hummer missed his free throw which Connolly kept alive and Hummer added two points for ostensibly a four point possession from the free throw line with a jumper.
Stevens again was off the mark and Koon drove from the left side to the rim. 70-55.
Bullard missed the rim and off a Hummer drive Davis found the target from the corner. When Koon flipped one home from under the rim this sudden surge sent Princeton up 20 with 3:06 to go.
As Clement, Ben Hazel, John Comfort, Sherburne, Clay Wilson, Daniel Edwards and Bobby Garbade all worked their way onto the floor (not at the same time, don’t worry) FAMU was able to score five of the final six points but Princeton was heading back to Princeton with a pair of Tallahasse triumphs.
It wasn’t a lovely performance throughout, but Henderson was satisfied with the end result. “We shot above 50% from the field, it was just the rebounding,” he said. The Rattlers grabbed 17 offensive boards.
That ugly number aside, Henderson and his team had much to be happy about after a very successful holiday getaway in Florida. Heading to the Sunshine State it seemed the best possible result was a split decision but 12 days away from the start of league play the Tigers continue to head in a positive direction.
-Princeton’s decent shooting continued after the intermission. They were 13-26 in the second half (50.0%) and 29-55 overall (52.7%). The Tigers made 11-24 three point shots (45.8%) with Bray and Davis combining to go 8-15 (53.3%). The orange and black struggled at the free throw line, 7-13 on the day (52.8%).
-A perfect 5-5 at the stripe versus Florida State, Hummer was 2-6 his next time out against FAMU.
-Improving to 20-48 from three point range on the season (41.7%), Bray is actually now Princeton’s highest percentage marksman from outside. “He’s shooting the ball very well,” said Henderson. “His shots are in rhythm and he’s confident.”
-Florida A&M was 24-64 as a team (37.5%), 4-9 from three (44.4%) and 9-11 on free throws (81.8%). Lewis had 19 and Dean 16.
-After going scoreless versus Siena and Florida State, Patrick Saunders converted two jump shots on Sunday, scoring five during the day.
-Davis’ 18 points leave him one tally shy of Geoff Petrie for seventh place on the Princeton all time scoring list.