The men’s basketball team heads to Houston on Saturday to take on Rice in its fourth game of the season. The Tigers (2-1), fresh off Wednesday night’s thrilling overtime win against Lafayette, are off to their best start since 2009, when they also went 2-1.Should they win Saturday, it would be the team’s first 3-1 start in seven years.
Princeton's offense has been potent thus far, averaging 71.67 points per game. Still, all those points have been necessary because of a relatively poor defense. Opponents are averaging 66.67 points per game against the Tigers.
“We were incredibly fortunate to win tonight’s game. I think we got a little complacent after the Butler game —it looked like we were sleepwalking out there at times,” head coach Mitch Henderson
'98 said after Wednesday’s win over Lafayette.
However, Princeton has actually been outshot slightly in the season, .438 to .432, including .477 to .449 inside the arc. Its saving grace has been three-point shooting. The Tigers have a .416 shooting clip from downtown and are attempting more threes per game than any team in program history. This deadly combination has Princeton sitting at ninthamong all Division I schools in three pointers made per game. However, the Owls (2-2) have held opponents to an outstanding .246 shooting percentage from behind the arc. The game will likely go to the side that wins this battle.
Rice’s other strength is its shooting close to the basket, having made 54.5 percent of its attempted two-point field goals. Despite an abysmal .299 three-point field goal percentage, the Owls have attempted almost half of their shots from downtown. Perhaps they will change their game plan against the Tigers, who defend far better on the perimeter than they do in the post.
The teams are quite similar in a few key statistical categories. The Owls outrebound their opponents 34.8 to 33.5, while Princeton holds a 34.33 to 31 edge over its foes. Both teams shoot close to 70 percent from the charity stripe and average 13 assists per game. Both teams lack a center, and none of Rice's players are over 6-foot-10. Both teams are also relatively inexperienced. Only one of the four upperclassmen on Rice's team is on the starting line, and only three out of Princeton’s seven primary players saw significant minutes last year.
Princeton is led by junior forward Denton Koon, who leads the team with 15.67 points per game and chips in 7.67 rebounds per game to boot. Henderson has been using Koon as the team’s sixth man thus far, a role that he says is a little different from what he’s used to. Koon led the Tigers in field goal percentage last year but is coming off a disappointing performance against Lafayette (0-3) in which he went just 3-16 from the field.
Sophomore forward Hans Brase has been Princeton’s presence down low, grabbing 9.33 rebounds per game and scoring 10.33 points per game. He too has had trouble shooting, posting a dismal .308 field goal percentage. Senior forward Will Barrett averages 14 points per game, mostly from three-pointers. Last year’s D-I leader in three-point field goal percentage at .516, Barrett has continued to drain them at a ridiculous .600 rate so far this season.
Junior guard Ben Hazel and freshman forward Spencer Weisz have had very similar stats so far, each averaging 9.33 points per game and 4.67 rebounds per game. Henderson was full of praise for Weisz, the first freshman starter since Doug Davis ’12.
“He doesn’t play like a freshman," he said. "He has an amazing feel for the game and good court vision.”
Senior guard Jimmy Sherburne leads the team in assists per game with 3.33 and also in turnovers and fouls per game. Though he did not see much time in the first two games, senior guard Chris Clement played 27 minutes against Lafayette, scoring eight points.
Rice has a larger rotation, with no player typically seeing more than 33.5 minutes. Sophomore guard Max Guercy leads the team with 13.5 points per game and 4.5 assists per game. Freshman forward Sean Obi is the team’s big man, scoring 10.8 points on .792 shooting and coming down with 8.5 rebounds per game. Other contributors include guards Austin Ramljak and Marcus Jackson, who are scoring a combined 22.5 points per game.
Princeton has faced Rice three times before, with the Tigers holding 2-1 advantage. The most recent matchup was a 51-28 Princeton victory in January 2007 at Jadwin Gymnasium. Those 28 points scored are the fewest by a Princeton D-I opponent since Bucknell could only muster 27 in December 1998.