The Tigers traveled to Pittsburgh after prevailing in a wild shootout against Evansville in their previous match, knowing that a similarly woeful defensive performance would not fly against a strong Pittsburgh team. However, Pittsburgh dismantled the Tigers with scorching offense in the first period, scoring 49 points and building a 24-point lead before cruising to victory.
“Our emphasis to start the game was to get the ball inside,” Henderson said. “Got to credit Pitt for that; they bothered us with what we were trying to do.”
Senior guard Doug Davis led the Tigers with 20 points and made six of 11 three-point attempts. Although he struggled to find his rhythm in the first half, junior forward Ian Hummer almost notched a double-double, with nine rebounds to go along with his 14 points.
“I thought we played well for spurts in the second half,” Henderson said, “but they were better. That’s a good Pitt team and we knew the challenges of coming in here and playing against a Big East team but we’re just overall happy about the season.”
After losing Sydney Johnson ’97 as head coach in the wake of a title-winning season in addition to having key players graduate, the Tigers’ sluggish beginning in the fall seemed only natural. Losing three of their first five Ivy League games, all on the road, sent expectations falling further.
However, the Tigers showed commendable commitment to embark on a glorious run to finish third in the standings at the end of the season, which included a win against then-ranked Harvard and a victory over Penn when the Quakers had an Ivy League title on the line.
“We’ve been playing pretty good basketball, and I’m really proud of our seniors,” Henderson said. “You know, we had a rough start to the season at 1-5 and for us to finish the way we did, I believe we won 10 out of 11 or something down the stretch, and that was really important for us, especially with what’s going into next year.”
Against Pitt, Davis surpassed Kit Mueller ’91 to end with 1,550 points over his college basketball career, sitting in second place for all-time scoring behind Bill Bradley ’65, who amassed 2,503 in only three seasons.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned among Kit Mueller and Bill Bradley, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, so I’m thankful for them,” Davis said.
“Doug’s a great player,” Hummer said. “Being the second all-time leading scorer at Princeton, I mean, that says it all. He’s a great person on and off the court.”
Henderson was quick to credit the qualities that this year’s graduating seniors — Davis, forward Patrick Saunders and guard John Comfort — brought in to make this the most successful period in men’s basketball since the 1990s. The Tigers have finished with at least 20 wins in each of their last three seasons.
“We have an important senior class that chose Princeton when we were down,” Henderson said. “We were [6-23 in 2008], and Doug, Pat and John Comfort chose Princeton and did something that ... [got] you back where you need to be.”
Although this year’s seniors will be missed, other players on the team have developed well. Sophomore guard T.J. Bray improved tremendously over the season, adding a strong three-point jumper to his repertoire. Junior guard Jimmy Sherburne demonstrated his ability to man the reserves off the bench and has a good case to play alongside Bray in the starting lineup next year. Junior centers Brendan Connolly and Mack Darrow have both played important roles in the frontcourt this season, and freshman forward Denton Koon has provided a spark when given the opportunity to play.
“I think this tournament’s been good in terms of being a springboard for the next season,” Darrow said. “I know Virginia Commonwealth University won this [in 2010] and the next year was in the Final Four. Obviously, we can really only hope to replicate something like that, but after our freshman year, we were in the CBI, and the next year I think we were close as a group, and we won the league.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/03/26/30345/