Men’s basketball (2-5 overall) spent Thanksgiving weekend competing in sunny Southern California. During the course of the eight-team Wooden Legacy Tournament, Princeton faced the University of Texas at El Paso (4-0) on Thanksgiving Day, falling by a score of 62-56. The following day, the Toreros of the University of San Diego (4-3) topped the Tigers by a score of 75-65. Two consecutive losses landed the Tigers in a seventh place matchup with San Jose State (1-6). Princeton topped the Aztecs by a score of 69-54 to snap a five-game losing streak.
The Wooden Legacy Tournament, which began in 1994 as the Wooden Classic, honors UCLA’s legendary former men’s coach John Wooden. Under the “Wizard of Westwood,” the Bruins won 10 NCAA championships during a 12-year span.
In the first half of their first game, the Tigers were ineffectual from the field. Within the arc, only seven of their 25 shots found the bottom of the net. From three-point land, that mark was 3-14. These totals improved in the second half to 12-27 and 3-5.
Despite drawing within three points of UTEP’s advantage by halftime, Princeton never managed to take the lead.
UTEP shot with efficiency during both periods, with field goal percentages of 43.5 and 47.8. The Miners' second-half distance shooting (5-7) helped establish an imposing nine-point lead, which the Tigers cut to just two with under five minutes to play. This rally came just too late, as the Miners coolly closed out the game against a Princeton side that was fighting against the clock.
Sophomore forward Henry Caruso, who had neither featured for more than nine minutes nor scored a point prior to Thursday’s game, led Princeton in scoring with a career-high 15 points. Behind him was his classmate, forward Steven Cook, who followed up a 14-point performance against Incarnate Word with 13 points on 5-12 shooting against UTEP.
Slightly less inefficient first-half shooting allowed Princeton to take an early lead against the Toreros the following day. Halfway through the first period, three consecutive three-point conversions helped swing a four-point advantage for Princeton into a nine-point USD lead. The Toreros' offense subsequently took over, establishing its largest lead of 15 points with 90 seconds remaining in the half.
The Tigers’ shooting improved dramatically in the second half from 37.0 to 54.2 percent. While their opponents’ efficiency plunged from 57.7 to 28.6 percent, the Orange and Black could not overcome the large early deficit.
Sophomore forward Spencer Weisz, who was held to a season-low four points by the Miners, led Princeton with 18 points in the second-round loss. Freshman guard Amir Bell improved upon his career-high of 13 with an impressive 17-point performance to which he added a pair of assists and four rebounds. His 12-23 shooting through the weekend’s three games helped earn him Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors.
Junior forward Hans Brase took a leading role in Princeton’s third round matchup with San Jose State. Five for nine from the field, he totaled 15 points with five rebounds and a game-high six assists.
The Tigers held a lead for the entirety of the contest, jumping out to a 12-2 advantage just over three minutes into the first period.
San Jose State’s Baker Jordan scored a game-high 23 points, including four three-pointers. His strong performance, though, could not help the Aztecs draw close to their New Jersey opponents.
Princeton shot a remarkable 71.4 percent from the field in the second half, sinking 15 of 21 field goal attempts. Twice the Tigers extended the lead to 19 and once to 20, from which point the Aztecs could not hope to recover.
Weisz remains the focal point of Princeton’s offense. The sophomore’s 15.3 points per game makes him the Ivy League’s fourth-leading scorer. This average, accumulated over seven starts, is somewhat inflated due to his 37.3 minutes per game—the conference’s highest usage rate.
Any win surpasses its alternative. But the 14-game gauntlet of conference play that caps the regular season determines everything in the Ivy League. A hot start guided Princeton to an 11-2 record before last season’s Ivy opener against Penn. This impressive early mark did nothing to earn the Tigers a league crown. By the same token, early losses ought not spell doom for the Tigers.
Princeton will face a number of fairly unfamiliar opponents in the coming weeks, including home matchups with Stony Brook University and Lipscomb University, which will mark the schools’ first meetings.