Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Brendan Connolly & Patrick Saunders:
Junior center Brendan Connolly scored a career high 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Princeton dusted off their home uniforms for the first time since just after Thanksgiving and bested The College Of New Jersey by 11.
Substituting liberally – 11 players saw action in the first half and all 15 Tigers in uniform played – while experimenting with different combinations (leading scorer Ian Hummer was on the floor for just 15 minutes) Princeton led by seven at halftime before opening the back frame on a 13-2 run. Their advantage stayed above 15 until the final five minutes.
The lead eventually extended to a game-high 22 on a John Comfort free throw but TCNJ closed on a 10-2 run against the far end of the Princeton bench.
As a whole, the Tigers’ first home performance in 39 days didn’t please head coach Mitch Henderson, especially how the team guarded their opponents one on one, but better now than once conference play gets underway.
“We’ve had a little nice run here and we had some nice wins down in Florida but I thought tonight we played a little bit like a team that was feeling good about itself,” Henderson stated. “Defensively we’ve got to be much improved. Thank god we’ve got four days to work on it.”
Hummer had 15 in as many minutes, Douglas Davis added 11 on 4-5 shooting and Patrick Saunders scored eight of his 10 in the second half.
Local product Skye Ettin totaled 15 for the Lions in defeat.
Princeton’s annual game against a Division III opponent traditionally is placed right at the end of the school’s exam break and for stretches versus The College Of New Jersey the Tigers played more like a team who had been idle for 2.5 weeks than one who had merely been on campus practicing the previous seven days.
Lacking leading scorer Kyle Cancillieri, TCNJ was still able to play Princeton even the first 10 minutes before a Denton Koon basket gave the Tigers a lead they would hold until the final horn.
Emmanuel Matlock’s initial drive and pass to the hirsute Daniel Balevski for a short jumper was answered by a Hummer shot. Hummer tried to find Mack Darrow in the post but his entry pass was knocked away, the ball coming back to Hummer following and stopping for a pull up.
Matlock came up short from outside and Hummer rebounded, pushing the situation and finding Davis fluid on the break stepping into his first three of the afternoon. When the ball slipped through the netting Davis had passed Geoff Petrie for seventh on the Princeton all-time scoring list.
Kyle Rawson drove by T.J. Bray for two and after Hummer was stripped in the post Matthew Rista was able to drive the baseline to the tin.
A nifty Bray pass to Darrow resulted in two made free throws following a Balevski foul but Ettien, playing in front of what had to be close to 100 friends, relatives and former teammates occupying two sections of the bleachers, connected for the first time off the wing for a 9-7 Lions lead.
Hummer was wild enough on a drive that he could keep going forward and tip in his own miss like he meant to do that all along. TCNJ gambled for a steal the next time Princeton had the ball and Hummer was able to go down the far baseline for a pair.
His team up 11-9, Henderson took Darrow, Hummer and Saunders out of the game in place of Koon, Comfort and Connolly.
“We were definitely looking to spread the minutes around,” Henderson acknowledged.
Comfort’s spinning drive gave Princeton a two point edge with 15:02 left in the half, quickly answered by Rawson when Comfort tried to swipe for a steal.
Bray found Davis on the far wing for a line drive three, the 240th of the senior’s career. Ettin answered to deadlock the score a sixth time at 16.
When Ettin converted a short, hesitating jumper on Brandon Johnson’s inbound pass it was a four point lead for the Lions.
Princeton began to establish Connolly inside against a team with no player on their roster taller than 6’8”.
Connolly spun on Ettin from the deep middle and was fouled, making one of his two chances. An angled drive by Donovan Smalls was deflected by Ben Hazel and at the other end Connolly converted a turn and score opportunity.
Off a missed jumper from Rawson, Jimmy Sherburne pushed the action and was able to stay low around the corner left and drive to the basket to give Princeton a 21-20 edge.
Rawson banked in a shot, then Sherburne diagonally lofted a pass over Connolly to a waiting Koon who hesitated and went up off the glass.
Another good feed by Sherburne got Connolly rolling to the hoop and Connolly was able to spin under the rim off a third Sherburne assist and score as Dan Bucher fouled him. Connolly made it 28-22 Tigers after a media time out, then took the lead up to eight when Hazel wrapped a pass around to him for a bunny.
With time stopped, Hummer and Davis returned at the 7:58 mark.
Princeton got to the line repeatedly but struggled when they went there. Koon made one of two after grabbing an offensive board over Rista. Darrow was cut under by Matlock setting a hand off screen but made the first and missed the second.
As the Tigers were recording single points on their possessions, Matlock drove by Davis and scored over the helping Darrow for a three point play and a 32-27 count.
Bray went to Koon on one side and Koon’s touch pass to Connolly resulted in a hard foul by Matlock before the shot. Connolly was off target at the line but hustled to the left wing to track down the offensive board. A posting Bray was doubled and found Saunders cutting who was fouled. After five straight trips to the free throw line without making both attempts, Saunders was true on both his tries. Princeton had a seven point lead.
Balevski was bodied by Connolly going up and made one of two. Recognizing a mismatch guarded by William Lester, Hummer called for the ball down low and was fouled before his shot. TCNJ into the double bonus, Hummer missed his first but made his second.
Ettin fired his third three off the half in over Saunders to draw within four. The lead the same after Hummer slashed for two and Balevski scored, Bray spotted Davis on the left wing for his third triple in as many tries.
Hummer was held on a potential offensive rebound and made both of his looks at the line to close out a first half with Princeton up 42-35.
Princeton was 14-22 in those opening 20 minutes (63.6%) and 3-7 from deep (42.9%). Their lead was not larger due to an 11-18 showing at the line (63.1%). The Tigers possessed a ridiculous 21-6 advantage on the glass with five offensive boards to the Lions’ zero. Hummer had an effortless 11 and Connolly scored 10 points to match his career high in 10 minutes.
The College Of New Jersey was 14-30 overall (46.7%), 3-7 from three (42.9%) and a much nicer 4-5 on free throws (80.0%). Ettin’s 13 led all scorers. TCNJ had five assists and a single turnover.
With all five starters back on the floor, Princeton made a decisive move as play resumed. Saunders posting on an inbounds pass hooked a shot home with his right hand. Darrow rumbling across the lane was fouled and made one of two free throws. Ettin’s jumper over Darrow went long and Hummer in the lane stopped and scored for two more. Following a Lions time out, Hummer could not muscle a reverse layup try up to the rim but stayed with the ball and scored.
Saunders picked up a steal and was rewarded by Davis in transition for a high arc three with Balevski yelling “argggggh!” as he tried to get out on the wing.
A nice Rawson reverse gave TCNJ their first points of the half but Bray’s lob of a skip pass (or skip of a lob pass if you prefer) to Saunders from the corner in front of his team’s bench made it a 55-37 game with 15:18 to go.
Again Henderson went to his bench, bringing Clay Wilson in for the first time along with Koon and Connolly in place of Darrow, Hummer and Davis.
While they did not play exceptionally well for long stretches, Princeton was able to keep their lead a sizable one. A hand off to Rawson pulling up on the dribble for a long two was countered by Connolly as Koon slapped a pass off an offensive board with one hand to the big man.
Jason Chalmers launched a rainbow over Connoly, then Koon from the free throw line spun to his right for a basket.
When Davis played in the second half, he rarely looked for his shot in lieu of younger players. One exception was Davis drifting to his left inside the line for a long deuce that increased Princeton’s lead to 64-44 with 8:58 to go.
This was the neighborhood the Tiger advantage camped out in for the next five minutes. Guarded by the 5’8” Johnson, Connolly was fouled on a lob and made one of two.
Replacing Connolly, Darrow provided a veteran presence to surround the young guards. Koon found Darrow inside for a layup and Hazel inbounding set up Darrow out of the far corner stepping into a three for a 72-51 game. Comfort using a head fake on the wing got into the lane and was fouled hard by Ettin, making one of two.
As Bobby Garbade, Daniel Edwards and for the first time this season freshman Brian Fabrizius got into the lineup Princeton was outscored 17-6 to close the contest.
During that time Garbade did score his first collegiate basket – a nice catch and finish off glass of a Sherburne zip pass and added a second hoop off a no look feed from Chris Clement.
Edwards also had his initial field goal of the season, a tip follow of a Comfort drive.
Regardless of competition, Connolly seemed happy that things have started to move in the right direction for him. While against Northeastern, Florida State and Florida A&M he did everything the coaches asked, on Sunday he was finally viewed as a viable offensive option.
“It is nice to see the ball go through the basket. That was something that was lacking for most of the first of the year,” Connolly admitted.
“It felt nice to have a breakthrough. [I’ve] just got to keep it going in the Ivy League season.”
Ivy play begins as the majority of the non-conference slate ended, on the road. After stopping home to make sure their white uniforms still fit, the Tigers head away from Jadwin for five additional contests beginning Friday night at Cornell.
“Going into those games we’re going to know what it is like to be on the road a lot. It should be nothing new for us,” Connolly said. “We know what we need to do in order to get the wins.”
The first order of business before Princeton plays at home again is to defend better as individuals and as a team than they did versus The College Of New Jersey on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers have four days to work on the next 33.
-Princeton shot 29-54 as a team (53.7%), 6-15 from three point range (40.0%) and 15-26 on free throws (57.7%). Connolly was a poor 4-10 from the line.
-The Tigers had a 46-20 advantage on the glass, grabbing 15 offensive boards.
-No Princeton player saw more than 25 minutes of action, with Bray the high minute man.
-TCNJ made 25-60 attempts (41.7%), 4-14 outside the arc (28.6%) and 14-19 at the stripe (73.7%). The Lions committed five turnovers compared to seven assists.
-Davis is now up to 1,331 points for his career. Next up on the scoring chart is Bob Scrabis with 1,365. Davis has 242 three pointers, including 48 this season. He needs 40 treys to catch Brian Earl for the most in Program history.
-Hummer increased his overall point total to 942.