The men’s basketball team opened its season Sunday at Jadwin Gym with a comfortable 67-50 win against Florida A&M. Despite a lackluster second half, Princeton largely dominated the Rattlers (0-2 overall), holding them to 32.7 percent shooting and just 1-11 from beyond the arc.
Though lacking a true center, the Tigers used their height advantage and out-rebounded their opponents 42-33. Princeton made it rain from three-point land, making 12 out of a whopping 31 attempts, a .387 average, in line with last year’s rate of .395.
“I thought it was a nice opener. We had lots of positives, but there’s definitely stuff to work on,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said. “We played well on offense, but had a bit of a slide on defense.”
Having lost Ivy League Player of the Year Ian Hummer ’13 and with senior guard and captain T.J. Bray out indefinitely, the Tigers started three players not on the team last year, accounting for half the team’s total minutes. Senior guard Jimmy Sherburne and junior guard Ben Hazel both got starting nods in their first game back after a year off, contributing 13 and 9 points, respectively, and freshman forward Spencer Weisz started the first game of his career. The team was carried, however, by its three returning members: senior forward Will Barrett, sophomore forward Hans Brase and junior forward Denton Koon. Barrett continued last season’s magnificent play from behind the arc, making four of six shots and adding a game-high three blocks, while Brase chipped in 10 rebounds. But it was Koon who stole the show, dropping a game-high 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds to boot, despite coming off the bench.
“It was a little different not getting the start today, but I look to contribute in any way I can,” Koon said. “We’ve got a lot of new pieces this year, and it’s important to work on playing together.”
The Tigers came out of the gates strong, jumping out to a 14-4 lead just over four minutes in, going three of five shooting from downtown. The next eight minutes were sloppier for Princeton, which committed six fouls and turned the ball over six times as its lead shrunk to four points. However, the Tigers bounced back with six points each from Koon and Barrett to finish up the half on a 17-6 run. Princeton dominated just about all aspects of the first half, out-rebounding Florida A&M 26-13 and shooting 44.4 percent while holding the Rattlers to just 30 percent. Some first game rust was apparent, as the Tigers coughed up nine turnovers.
The second half was shakier for Princeton, as the Tigers were less aggressive on defense and more one-dimensional on offense. A&M brought the lead down to 11 with 12:51 left and then again with 8:52 left, but Princeton held strong and rattled off 11 points in two minutes to go up 65-46, the largest lead of the game. Freshman forward Pete Miller put the icing on the cake with an emphatic dunk for the first basket of his career. The Tigers edged out the Rattlers 29-27 in the second half, but were actually out-rebounded 20-16 and out-shot 45 percent to 25 percent on two point attempts.
“I would like to be more consistent on defense in the future,” Henderson commented. “On offense, I was happy with how the ball moved and our three-point shooting."
Princeton plays next Saturday at Butler in Indianapolis in their first major test of the season.