It was an up and down weekend for the Princeton men’s basketball team as it split a pair of games in this weekend’s homestand. After defeating the Brown Bears and falling to the Yale Bulldogs, the Tigers find themselves stuck at the same place in the standings they were a week ago.
Princeton (11-12 overall, 4-3 Ivy League) entered and exited this weekend ranked third in the Ivy League. With Yale leading them by just 1.5 games, the Tigers knew that these two games could be a prime opportunity to get deeper into the thicket of the league title tussle.
The win against Brown (10-14, 1-6) showed only encouraging signs. Of particular note is the incredible rebounding effort of the Tigers against Brown’s formidable big man combination. Brown both leads the league in rebounds and has a starting lineup that contains two players among the conference’s best in that category: Rafael Maia (8.3) and Cedric Kuakumensah (7.3). However, junior forward/center Hans Brase brought his A-game to Jadwin this weekend, posting a monstrous double-double of 14 points and 15 boards against Brown’s duo.
The strong rebounding didn’t stop with Brase — sophomore wing Spencer Weisz and freshman guard Amir Bell posted seven and eight boards, respectively. In addition to the team’s excellent rebounding, the Tigers garnered high-percentage shots by continuing to challenge Brown’s big men combo. Kuakumensah leads the league in blocks at 2.6 per game, and Brown stands third in the league overall in blocks. Given Brown’s strong interior defensive presence, the thought that the Tigers would go on to shoot in the 50 percent range was a rather optimistic one.
The Tigers exceeded expectations on the offensive end. No player on the starting lineup shot below 50 percent, and the Tigers would finish the game shooting at a remarkable 52.9 percent clip. In terms of points, sophomore guard Stephen Cook led the way with 18 points on 7 of 13 shots. Compared to Brown’s woeful 34.8 percent shooting for the game, it’s obvious the Tigers were the superior team on the offensive end. Combined with their great rebounding effort,one can see how the Tigers controlled this game from start to finish on both ends of the floor.
Amazingly, in the game against Yale (18-7, 7-1), the Tigers kept up their excellent shooting percentage, as they made 25 of 48 shots — 52.1 percent — against the Bulldogs en route to 71 points. This is certainly no small feat, given that Yale has held the rest of its Ivy League opponents to an average of 60 points per game.
However, the Tigers’ struggles in the game were all on the defensive side. Princeton may have shot 52 percent, but Yale topped that with an astounding 58 percent on the game, include 46 percent from the three-point line. Yale’s aggressiveness on offense was on display for the entire game — looking at the foul statistics, one notices how Yale drew more fouls and got more opportunities at the line overall.
The story of the game for Yale was the play of their star forward Justin Sears. Coming off a solid performance against Penn the previous day, he lit the Tigers up in this one, going 8 of 11 from the field, and 9 of 11 from the line. Finishing with 25 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks, he was borderline unstoppable as he carried the Bulldogs to victory.
Sears’ great play, however, can’t totally overshadow some fantastic performances from the Tigers’ squad. Sophomore wing Henry Caruso deserves a lot of credit for keeping Princeton in the game with his strong play. Caruso scored 25 points on an extremely efficient 9-of-11 shooting. With his performance this weekend, he surpassed his previous career high of 23 points scored in a win over Penn earlier this season.
Again, it wasn’t that Caruso didn’t receive any help offensively. Cook again came to play and scored 15 points on the day. Weisz and Bell chipped in with 13 and eight points respectively, each on 50 percent shooting. The Tigers’ offense was fantastic, but their inability to shut down the hot hand led to their downfall in this one.
With this weekend complete, the Tigers are 2.5 games behind Yale and Harvard, both of whom are tied for first in the league. The Tigers have only seven games left to make a move if they want to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.