Men's Basketball: Barrett’s return sparks season-opening win
From the opening tip of the men’s basketball team’s season opener at Buffalo on Saturday, it was clear that several Tigers would play new roles this season. Junior guard Chris Clement, who played a total of 55 minutes in his first two seasons, got his first career start and played nearly half the game. Sophomore guard Clay Wilson, who entered the season with five career points, more than doubled that total with 11 on Saturday.
Above all, there was junior forward Will Barrett, playing his first game since missing the final three-quarters of the 2011-12 season due to a foot injury. Barrett returned at a higher level than he had ever reached before, blowing away his previous career-best with 20 points and adding a game-high nine rebounds. With 10 seconds left and the shot clock winding down, the 6-foot, 10-inch junior hit a three-pointer to seal Princeton’s 57-53 victory.
“[Senior center] Mack [Darrow] cut down the lane to try to hit somebody backdoor, and two or three guys came up on him. I just spotted up at the top of the key, he hit me with a perfect pass and I knocked down the three,” said Barrett, who was named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week.
Buffalo (0-1 overall) had a rocky start to its season, committing six turnovers in a scoreless run that lasted for nearly eight minutes after the opening tip. Meanwhile, the Tigers (1-0) jumped out to a 7-0 lead, getting the final point on a free throw by freshman forward Hans Brase, who played 11 minutes in his first game in a Princeton uniform.
Two consecutive short-range baskets from senior center Brendan Connolly extended the Tigers’ lead to 17-9 at the seven-minute mark, but the Bulls rattled off a 12-5 run to cut their deficit to one point at halftime. Princeton struggled to make shots in the first half, shooting 30 percent from the floor and hitting only one of 13 three-point tries.
The dry spell continued into the second half, as the Tigers missed three more three-pointers while Buffalo took its first lead of the game, going ahead 30-26 six minutes into the period. Wilson finally broke the drought with a triple from the left side; two minutes later, Barrett put the Tigers ahead by two points with a three-pointer of his own, and the visitors would not trail again.
“The first game’s always nerve-racking. We had a lot of open shots, and we just weren’t knocking them down,” Barrett said. “During the second half, we didn’t turn the ball over ... We got into our offense a lot easier, and the shots just came a lot easier.”
Princeton made half of its long-range attempts in the second half, including three from Wilson — the last of which was a prayer from near halfcourt as the shot clock expired.
Buffalo stayed in the game almost solely due to the play of star forward Javon McCrea, who scored 22 of the hosts’ 32 points after halftime. Facing a seven-point deficit with four minutes remaining, McCrea led the Bulls’ comeback effort on both ends, continuing to drive the offense while frustrating senior forward Ian Hummer on defense. Hummer missed his last three shots, and with the Tigers up by two points and 42 seconds remaining, he fouled McCrea in the post.
McCrea made his first free throw but missed his second. Barrett grabbed the rebound and hit the game-clinching three-pointer 30 seconds later.
Hummer and junior point guard T.J. Bray — who were expected to be the Tigers’ leaders this season — struggled to score on Saturday; they shot a combined 7-for-26 from the field. But the veterans set up their teammates well, combining for 13 assists while committing only five turnovers. For the game, Princeton and Buffalo were evenly matched in most categories except turnovers — the Tigers committed only 10 miscues while forcing 18.
Princeton was one of seven Ivy League teams to win its 2012-13 opener. Yale was the only member of the Ancient Eight to lose its first game, blowing a 24-point lead to Sacred Heart.
The Tigers will play their home opener at Jadwin Gymnasium tonight at 7 p.m. against Northeastern (1-0), which also won its first game of the season, squeaking past Boston University 65-64. Princeton won last year’s meeting 71-62 in Boston.
“We’re so excited for tomorrow,” said Barrett, who has not played a home game in nearly 12 months. “Coming home’s always an awesome experience. Feeling the comfort of Jadwin is something you don’t get to replace.”