For the second-straight week, the men’s basketball team (1-1) took the court without its emotional leader and captain, senior guard T.J. Bray. Following last weekend’s 67-50 shellacking of Florida A&M, Princeton headed to Indianapolis to face a tougher squad in Butler (2-0), which has reached two NCAA Finals games in the past four years. Stellar offensive performances by sophomore forward Hans Brase and junior forward Denton Koon helped Princeton net exactly 67 points again, but a last-second chance to force overtime rimmed out and gave Butler a three-point victory.
The Tigers responded well to their 700-mile trip, seizing the first lead in Hinkle Fieldhouse and refusing to lose it for nearly 13 minutes. Despite shooting nine of 21 from the field and four of 13 from beyond the arc —an uncharacteristically inaccurate half for Princeton —the squad entered halftime trailing by just two points at 33-31.
Butler kicked off the second half with a 13-2 run, ripping open a 13-point lead in less than four minutes. During the run, Princeton picked up five team fouls; 43 seconds later, the Bulldogs were playing with the team bonus and15:29of time on their side.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Koon and Brase and a Butler free throw brought the score to 52-43 with under 14 minutes to play before a 6-0 run by the Tigers slashed the deficit to three, where it remained halfway through the second period.
Four double-bonus fouls helped Butler recapture its double-digit advantage with5:40 remaining, but a layup from junior guard Ben Hazel sparked an 11-2 Princeton swing. The Tigers made only one free throw on both of their consecutive trips to the line, cutting the lead to seven before a three-pointer from senior forward Will Barrett brought the game within four.
The two teams traded buckets, and Koon knocked down two free throws to make the score 69-67 in the final minute. With 14 seconds to go, the Tigers forced a turnover and called a time-out to discuss their opportunity to tie or regain the lead for the first time in the second half. The squad moved the ball to their best scorer on a look that head coach Henderson liked, but Koon’s game-tying attempt was no good.
“[I was] really pleased with the shot,” Henderson said. “Down 67-59 with less than four [minutes], [I was] really happy to be getting a shot to tie it.”
The foul trouble Princeton incurred during the second half came at the perfect time for the Bulldogs, who had earned only five attempts from the charity stripe before halftime. Butler shot a miserable 36 percent from the field after the intermission, hitting only three of its 13 long-range tries. Meanwhile, the Tigers had returned to their usual shooting ways, knocking down four of seven second-half looks from downtown en route to a nine-of-18 period from the field. In a half that otherwise heavily favored the visitors, Butler’s ability to draw fouls produced 16 of its 37 second-period points and helped it to escape victorious.
Princeton received its fair share of whistles as well, but it just failed to take advantage of them. The Tigers connected on only 23 of the staggering 37 foul shots they took, resulting in an ugly 62.2 percent for the night. The figure falls 10 percent short of last year’s mark —Princeton finished the year at 72.3 percent of 483 attempts —and pales in comparison to last week’s impressive 13 of 16 showing.
Coach Henderson said that in addition to missing out on the scoring opportunities provided by its free-throw line visits, his team struggled to retain its usual offensive flow after the unusually frequent stoppages. When asked if the game’s 48 total foul calls affected his team’s rhythm, he responded with a rhetorical question.
“What’s it like to watch it?” he asked.
The head coach’s takeaways from the heartbreaker were not all negative, though. His focus on improving Princeton’s rebounding throughout the preseason paid off, as the Tigers won the boards battle 33-30.
“I thought we came into a tough place to play and competed to win,” said Henderson. “There’s no moral victories here, but I like this team.”
Koon led the team in scoring for the second-straight game with 21 points, while Brase’s 15 points and 11 rebounds earned him his second career double-double. Meanwhile, freshman forward Spencer Weisz added nine points and five rebounds, hitting two of his four three-point attempts and posting the team’s only shooting percentage above .500, albeit only on five attempts. Weisz has received more than 30 minutes of playing time in each of his first two games, and he appears to have solidified his role as a significant contributor in Henderson’s offense.
The team is playing at a high level even in the absence of Bray, who is eyeing a return to action sometime within the next two weeks. His squad’s next test comesthis Wednesday at 7 p.m., when the Tigers will host Lafayette.