The men’s basketball team’s first home win of the season eluded the Tigers on Friday night, when they dropped a close contest to Rutgers. After leading most of the first half, Princeton fell into a six-point deficit by the end of the period and would never recover. The hosts eventually came up short by the same margin, losing 58-52.
For the second straight game, Princeton (1-2 overall) came out firing in front of its home crowd. The team shot well from outside right away, connecting on four of its first seven three-point attempts and cracking open a 15-8 lead.
Princeton’s hot streak proved short-lived, however, as did Rutgers’ inability to find the bottom of the net. The Tigers missed their next five shots from downtown, and the Scarlet Knights (2-1) capitalized with a 13-3 run. With the game tied at 18 and eight minutes remaining in the first half, the visitors knocked down a three-pointer to take their first lead of the game. Rutgers never looked back after that moment, as the Tigers kept the game close but failed to regain the advantage, or even tie the score.
The second half was an agonizing one for the Tigers, who spent 20 minutes trying and failing to recapture the lead they had lost before halftime. The deficit remained in single digits until the final 30 seconds of the game, when Princeton was forced to begin fouling to stop the clock, and it shrank to a single point near the middle of the half. The Tigers pulled within four points or closer six times during the second half, but they could never quite catch their opponents, as each team scored 25 points after halftime.
The Scarlet Knights stayed in a 2-3 zone all night, forcing Princeton to work hard for its points. The crowded paint left senior forward Ian Hummer and senior center Brendan Connolly surrounded by double- and triple-teams, as Rutgers held both to a modest combination of 14 points and four rebounds.
As a result of Rutgers’ tough interior defense, more than half of the shots Princeton attempted came from outside the three-point line. The team fired 26 threes out of its 47 total shots, producing a meager 31.9 shooting percentage. Playing a defense that conventionally concedes open looks from outside, the remarkably athletic Scarlet Knights squad moved quickly enough to disrupt Princeton’s long-range shooters as the game wore on. The Tigers made only three of their 13 three-point tries in the second half.
In addition to showing Princeton a tough look defensively, the Scarlet Knights made the Tigers pay for their own defensive errors. Rutgers moved the ball patiently and found open looks late in its possessions all night, connecting on 53.8 percent of its three-pointers. They also outrebounded the Tigers by a whopping 42-24 margin, to compensate for the 16 turnovers Princeton forced.
On Wednesday, the Tigers will face a tough Syracuse team that plays a defensive-minded brand of basketball not unlike Rutgers did Friday. Princeton should expect the Orange to game-plan for Hummer. The senior has garnered lots of defensive attention this year from his opponents, who have limited him to five second-half points in his last two games, compared to 30 first-half points.
The midgame adjustments have not surprised Hummer, who anticipates that defenses will continue to adapt to Princeton’s tendencies. “Anytime a player has a lot of points in the first half you have to change something,” he said. “I think [Rutgers] really closed off the zones to kind of block me from getting the ball ... They made us beat them from the outside.”
Sophomore guard Clay Wilson expressed faith in his team’s ability to respond to such adjustments accordingly.
“Rutgers gave us a good look in preparation for Syracuse,” he said. “Syracuse plays great zone defense as well, and they will be even more athletic than Rutgers was. We just need to do a better job moving the ball quickly and finding open shots and we’ll be fine.”
The team will have their chance to prove it at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/11/20/31887/