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Princeton 61 Cornell 41.

Box Score

Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Pawel Buczak & Kareem Maddox:

It wasn't just that they won, though the fact that they won is remarkable unto itself.

It was how they won.

Princeton never trailed on Friday night against Cornell, defeating the defending Ivy League champions 61-41 and ending the Big Red's 19 game conference winning streak.

They won despite getting just two points from their leading scorer, Doug Davis.

They won holding Cornell to four points in the final eight minutes of the game, and not allowing a field goal in the final 7:05.

They won scoring the game's last 10 points.

They won with four players in double figures, starting with center Pawel Buczak, who was on target all three times he rose up from outside, connecting from the top of the arc and both wings. Buczak poured in 15 points on 6-7 shooting. Dan Mavraides added 12 and Kareem Maddox had his most complete game in months, scoring 11, grabbing a game-best seven boards and working with the Tiger frontcourt to limit Cornell to minimal second chances. Marcus Schroeder chipped in 10.

Louis Dale was the only Cornell player in double figures with 12.

"I don't know if we envisioned it quite this way in terms of how the game played out and starting the year 3-0 [in the Ivy League]," said victorious Princeton coach Sydney Johnson, "but we do have a blueprint that was started by a man named Pete Carril and we've all tweaked it in different ways. These young men have embraced the system and they have great chemistry amongst them selves. It is really starting to pay dividends."

While the Tigers improved to 3-0 in conference, Cornell dropped to 4-1.

The Tigers didn't just outplay Cornell, they outworked Cornell players for possession of numerous 50/50 loose balls - Patrick Saunders diving to the floor and not calling time out to keep the ball alive in the first half. Jason Briggs ripping the ball out of Adam Wire's hands with Cornell looking to cut down Princeton's 10 point lead. Pawel Buczak on the ground in a scrum at mid-court and Dan Mavraides calling time to keep the arrow with the Tigers. Zach Finley taking the ball plum away from Dale, the defending Ivy League Player of the Year, as both fought for the rebound of a short Kareem Maddox three point shot.

Following their 32 point victory over Brown last weekend, Dale said Cornell's motto was "Play hard, no mercy." The Big Red had defeated their first four Ivy opponents by an average of 21 points, so it was shocking to see the Tigers not only the team that worked harder but also the team that was merciless once they saw the opportunity to close the game out.

Ryan Wittman, Cornell's leading scorer - who has a remarkable jump shot - was just 1-6 from behind the arc, finishing with nine points, less than half his average. In past years Princeton has been fooled on Wittman's ball fakes, allowing the junior from Minnesota to casually step to his left or right and size up an open jumper. On Friday, with few exceptions, Princeton's defenders kept their feet nailed to the floor and Wittman grew frustrated as the game went on. Wittman had two looks at the basket to tie the game in the second half with Cornell down 34-31. The first came up well sort of the rim as he tried to quickly curl for an open look at the top of the key and the second was a wide open three in the near corner that caught the rim short of the mark.

"We talked about what Wittman does," Johnson said. "We talked about some other things that guys do. Nine times out of 10 we really followed through on the scouting report. I'm just humbled by these guys because I've seen the maturation, I've seen the willingness, the commitment of these guys to really apply what we've been desperate to do. A win like this is really a testament to the kind of work that they're putting in."

"The coaches prepared us very well for everything [Cornell was] going to do," added Maddox. "They watch so much film. [Cornell] did everything they said they were going to do."

It took two minutes for either team to get into the scoring column, a Mavriades jump shot catching the plateau between the rim and the backboard and dropping down. A deep left-handed hook from Buczak doubled the lead.

Wittman posted Davis in the paint and his first jumper was true. A minute later Maddox altered Foote in close but Geoff Reeves followed the shot home.

The Tigers' first substitution of the night was a surprising one, as Patrick Saunders came in not for Kareem Maddox, as he had in recent games, but for Davis. This allowed Princeton to gain size up front while sliding Mavraides into the backcourt with Schroeder.

A drive by Schroeder went down and after an illegal screen on Cornell's Brian Kreefer waved off a Wittman three, Buczak struck from the left wing for three of his own and Princeton led 9-4. The lead reached seven as Princeton, with three on the shot clock inbounding from the far sideline, got the ball in Davis' hands already on his way to the hole. Davis took a dribble to the basket, spun backwards and pulled up for a jumper, his only field goal of the game.

Alex Tyler was dared by the Princeton defense to shoot from the free throw line and made the Tigers pay. Wire kissed one off the glass with 11:54 to go and Cornell was back within three.

Davis picked up his second personal bumping Dale as he tried to stay in front of him and Princeton's top scorer was done for the first half. The scoreboard stayed frozen for the next two minutes, a long pull-up jumper by Tiger co-captain Nick Lake pushing the lead to five.

With Cornell down two on a Reeves free throw, Schroeder drove down the lane and turned to make eye contact with Buczak, now open up high. Buczak's rainbow three went down, but before the end of the applause Dale had already converted a scooping drive to bring the Big Red back to 16-13.

The next run belonged to Princeton. Maddox got into the lane and was fouled by Wittman, his second personal. Both free throws were good.

Chris Wroblewski was called for holding Saunders in the post and Saunders made both ends of his one-and-one.

Finley knocked the ball out of Dale's hands and into the arms of Mavraides, who passed to Schroeder, aware his center was running the floor at full speed. Schroeder found him in time for Finley to soar off glass for two. Cornell coach Steve Donahue called time.

Dale drove to the hoop and was bodied by Finley going for the block, but the 90%+ free throw shooter was only good on his second try.

Schroeder threw a wicked cross-court pass to Maddox for three, but the ball came up short. Finley tore the rebound away from Dale and laid it home to make the score 25-14 Tigers with 2:28 left before intermission.

Coach Johnson took his "use it or lose it" time out and when play resumed Cornell attempted to extend their zone pressure further towards half court, but Schroeder made the Big Red think twice with his first three point set shot of the game.

Dale drove on Finley and was able to extend his left hand and score while being fouled to pull Cornell within 11. A high-arcing three from Reeves out of the far corner rattled home just before the final buzzer drew the Big Red to 29-20 at the break.

A team with as many weapons as Cornell has is going to make a run. It is a matter of when, not if. The first half was a pleasant surprise, but a storm was brewing in the Big Red locker room. The only question was if it would be a drizzle or a downpour. Geoff Reeves drifted left for a mid-range jumper to start the second half and when Wittman faked Davis out and found room for a ten foot baseline jumper the Princeton lead was down to five.

Mavraides was given an inch up top, took a Maddox pass and canned a three that offered Princeton some relief, but a Foote hook after an offensive board made the score 32-26.

A Dale drive drew the attention of the Princeton defense, allowing Wittman to set up unattended in front of the Cornell bench for three.

Maddox used his long arms to fend off Tyler and score while the whistle sounded at the end of a lefty drive, but Foote responded by backing down Finley in the post to set the stage at 34-31 with 15:24 left in regulation.

A nearly four minute scoreless stretch, during which Wittman missed both his chances to tie the game, ended with Buczak faking a three and driving for an awkward finger roll that somehow bounced around and in.

Schroeder set up Buczak outside via penetration and the lead was eight again. Dale, who did not attack the basket as much as expected, finally began to slash into the paint and draw whistles. Two free throws at the 9:10 mark made the score 40-35, but Davis found Mavraides up top on Princeton's next possession and Finley took the lead to 10 when he sneaked ahead of the Cornell defense for two.

Maddox used a drop step to score on the smaller Wire while being fouled, the free throw restoring the lead to 11.

With the lead and with the ball, Princeton looked to run time off the clock before getting into their offense. The Tigers remained aggressive, yet mindful of time ticking away.

Schroeder threw another left-to-right cross-court pass, this to his favorite target, Mavraides in front of the Princeton bench to give the Tigers a 14 point lead.

Cornell closed to 10 with 3:07 left on two more Dale free throws, but Buczak saw a mismatch in the post and strolled around his defender for two with his right hand and following a Dale miss from three, Mavraides dished to Maddox for a two-handed flush.

The unexpected rout was on. The Tigers scored on six of their last seven possessions, their only empty time down the floor coming when Jason Briggs missed the front end of a one-and-one at the line.

It was the biggest win of the Sydney Johnson era, both in quality of opponent defeated and margin of victory against a D-I foe. For a night, Princeton sits atop the Ivy League standings, with Columbia visiting Jadwin Gym tomorrow at 6:00 pm ET.

The significance of Friday's result was not lost on Johnson, who still recognized that the outcome is just one piece in a fourteen game puzzle. "I would say it is pretty important," Johnson stated. "We understand, despite this result, that Cornell is a favorite to win the league. They have tremendous players and a very good coach. For us to win a home game against everybody's unanimous pick to win the league, I think that's fair to say it means something, in terms of the progress we've made. We just have a really big game tomorrow."


-Princeton was 22-44 from the floor (50.0%), an efficient 8-14 from three (57.1%) and 9-15 at the line (60.0%). Cornell shot 14-44 (31.8%), just 2-17 from outside (11.8%) and 11-14 on free throws (78.6%).

-Cornell had an abysmal 4:14 assist-to-turnover ratio. Princeton handed out 12 assists and gave away nine turnovers, four belonging to Buczak.

-While the Big Red outrebounded Princeton 32-28, the Tigers limited the second chances of 7'0" center Jeff Foote. "I think Kareem mixed it up in there and Pawel and Finley, to hold them to one shot." said Johnson. That was important, to be able to consistently hold them to one shot."

-Princeton has their first six game winning streak since the 2003-04 season.

-After Zach Finley was called for his third personal foul battling for a defensive rebound with 13:56 left to play, Finley and Cornell's Geoff Reeves were each whistled for a technical foul as both players took exception to being tied up by the other under the basket. The technical sent Finley to the bench, now one foul away from disqualification.

-Hats off to Greg Price, the son of Princeton Associate Athletic Director Jerry Price, who completely nailed his solo sax rendition the national anthem before tonight's game, earning a pat on the head from Coach Johnson as he walked off the court relieved.

-When asked if he thought Buczak would be this good this year, his coach's answer was one word - "No." After thinking for a second, Johnson followed up that single word with an inspired quote that I will close tonight's write-up with:

"I do know this. When I was here as a player, when I was fortunate to work for Coach Thompson at Georgetown - the stuff that we do, guys get better. They come a little bit early before practice, they stay a little bit late after practice. Over the course of a season and two seasons and three seasons, guys get better. So, it is not totally shocking. Pawel has come a long way, but Kareem has come a long way. We have different guys who have gotten better over time because they have committed to what we're doing. I hope and pray that that will continue, but that been the way things have been here at Princeton for a while. And, it didn't start with what we do, it started with Coach Carril and a few great coaches before him. Guys get better here."

Maureen Montgomery said,

February 6, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

OK - I didn't see a 20 point win coming, but all week I had a feeling that "something special" could happen. I was so impressed with the Lehigh win and I did listen to a bit of both of last week's games, and the team seems different. Plus I bought a really cute (and only mildly overpriced) little stuffed tiger at half-time, and I'm sure that was a good luck charm. :-)

It was such a great atmosphere tonight! I think Coach Johnson and his staff are just getting better and better, and the team is responding, and improving.

Go Tigers!

Glenn Morris said,

February 6, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

Best defensive effort and focus in some time. From the get-go the Tigers pushed the Big Red way out and helped each other when a Cornell player slipped by his defender. In the first half, Cornell looked like it didn't know what to do--they had to work extremely hard for shots and the shots they worked for were not very clean looks, compliments of TIGER D!!
Increasing composure and situational awareness were evident: when Cornell made their run at the start of the second half; the Tigers kept their cool. In the last four minutes, the Tigers were terrific managing the the full court pressure and using the clock to their advantage, consistently..They even figured out how to navigate the erratic officiating, but from where I sit, we never foul....
Great Game Guys!!

The most exciting aspect to me is that the Tiger win had TEAM stamped all over it--these guys are learning that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Rodney Johnson said,

February 7, 2009 @ 9:42 am

What a wonderful win.......wish I could have witnessed it.

This was a genuine team effort.

I hope Zach Finley is accepting the loss of his starting job. His contributions off the bench are invaluable. It is a great luxury to have two productive big men. Between fouls and the physical demand of back to back games on the weekend, the backup is just as important as the starter.

It is also nice to see that we can maintain our poise even when Doug Davis gets sent to the bench early with foul trouble.

Is is too early to start a "Keep Sydney Johnson in Princeton" campaign?

James Moore said,

February 7, 2009 @ 11:29 am

Coach Johnson and the Tigers are exceeding all expectations. They have learned to win and are now playing with the poise and confidence that will keep them in the hunt for the Ivy League title. There is still a long way to go, but I could not be more pleased with the progress of this team.

Jon Solomon said,

February 7, 2009 @ 1:00 pm


You mentioned the atmosphere, so I'll add the following:

When the two teams came out for the opening tip, I jotted down a note about how pitiful the attendance was for a game like this. Entire swaths of the stands empty. A four student Jadwin Jungle.

But as the game started people began to show up. And they didn't stop trickling in. By the time the first half was at the midway point, I'd say it was the largest crowd of the season. As Princeton built their 28-14 lead, fans started to remember how to cheer and chant again.

It wasn't anywhere near where things need to be if Jadwin is going to have a "home court advantage," but I'm guessing everyone who came out on Friday was inspired to come back and tell their friends/fellow fans that the Tigers may just have turned a corner.


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