If you see sophomore wing Henry Caruso around in the next few days, give him a hug and buy him a drink.
Caruso scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed 6 rebounds to boost the Tigers to a victory over rivals Penn Quakers. He was aided by the strong performance of fellow sophomore Spencer Weisz, who added 20 points on the day.
By no means did Princeton come out of this one unscathed. The Quakers were committed to hitting the Tigers down low as often as possible. Penn’s center Darien Nelson-Henry seemed unstoppable for most of the game, as he scored 18 points off of many easy layups after establishing himself inside. Indeed, had it not been for Penn’s many turnovers in the first half, they could’ve easily been sitting on a lead much higher than 5 points going into the second half.
The Tigers’ calling card this game was their commitment to attacking the rim. Caruso alone got to the line eight times, making 14 of 16 shots. Freshman Amir Bell was also incredibly aggressive, going to the line 6 times in the game; his penetration many times broke down Penn’s defense and led to open threes or other opportunities for his teammates.
The entire team played their part this aspect, as they scored 32 points on free throws for the game, compared to Penn’s measly 9. While Weisz and junior center Hans Brase both hit threes to start the game for the Tigers, it eventually seemed that they would live and die by their finishing skills around the rim.
A tense first half found the Tigers down by as much as 6, though they came storming back on a 7-0 run thanks to some strong drives by Weisz and Caruso. The Quakers responded with a 9-3 run (including a three-pointer from just inside half court at the buzzer), leaving them up 41-36 at halftime.
After that, Penn came out and basically punched Princeton in the mouth. They went on a 17-7 run, scoring most of their points from strong inside play. Nelson-Henry played a huge role, as he got behind the Tiger defense multiple times for easy layups. Facing a 15-point deficit, it was a time of crisis for the Tigers.
I may not be a hunter, but I do know it’ll take multiple shots to put down an angry tiger. Led by Weisz, who nailed back-to-back threes to halt the Quaker run, the Tigers came roaring back into the game. Along with continuously solid and aggressive drives, the Tigers added the piece missing from the first-half performance: multiple defensive stops. Their fortunes turned as soon as they started shutting down Penn’s inside game. As the Quakers began to search in vain for those inside buckets and compound mistake on mistake, the Tigers capitalized on the other end. A three pointer by Ben Hazel and more free throws from Caruso brought them to within three.
The Tigers did not let up offensively. Caruso proved key down the stretch, scoring a layup in transition to put the Tigers up with 6 minutes to go. A few minutes later, he and Bell scored 6 points in the span of 30 seconds, giving the Tigers a 3-point lead with four minutes to go.
Though the Quakers responded with 4 straight points, the Tigers managed to put it away behind — you guessed it — free throws. Caruso put in the go-ahead free throws with a minute to go, putting the Tigers up by one. Six consecutively-made free throws by Brase and Hazel sealed the deal.
In the preview for this game, I may or may not have called the Quakers less intimidating than the Quaker Oats guy. Apparently, this isn’t the case. Penn came out on the road and for a significant amount of time outmuscled and outplayed the Tigers. However, hats off to Princeton for never giving in and getting it together when they really counted.
It was a thrilling way to kick off Ivy League play, but the defensive work, especially in the paint, needs to be stronger if the Tigers are going to compete for a spot in the Big Dance come March.