Following the graduation of star player T.J. Bray and shooter Will Barrett, the Tigers (16-14 overall, 9-5 Ivy League) headed into this season combating inexperience and a leadership vacuum. With only one upperclassman in the starting lineup, many doubted whether such a young team would be able to compete in a conference featuring veteran Crimson and Bulldog squads. Fortunately, the Tigers met these challenges and questions in stride to grow as a team over the course of the season and finish with a winning 16-14 overall record.
As expected, the beginning of the season posed numerous challenges for the Tigers. Through November and December, the Tigers stumbled upon a 5-9 record, including a lowly No. 7finish, out of eight, at the Wooden Legacy Tournament. The tumultuous schedule that kept the Tigers traveling across the country reflected the team’s inconsistency. To be sure, the Tigers had dug themselves a deep hole by the New Year.
To illuminate the desolate early season, sophomore starting forward Spencer Weisz explained, “From the beginning of the season it was a big adjustment losing the seniors from last year. He [T.J. Bray] really controlled the game with his actions on the court. We weren’t really sure how to win close games. We started doing ‘situations’ to learn how to win during practice and I think that was able to translate into later in the season.”
Fortunately, the focused, hard work on closing games and developing team unity paid off in January. The month awarded the Tigers a five-game home stand, which the team capitalized on: It won four of these five games and lost only to top-ranked Harvard. January’s games also gave a small preview to interconference play within the Ivy League, allowing the Tigers to prove their force with wins over Penn and Dartmouth.
At last, through the months of February and March, the Tigers solely faced Ivy League opponents. Despite the tough losses that the Tigers suffered early in the season, Princeton approached these games with redemption. Looking back, the "situations" paid off as the Tigers finished the final two months with a 7-4 record, including an impressive four-game win streak to close out the season.
For an even more in-depth perspective on the team’s growth and eventual success, Weisz noted, “Our win versus Columbia at home was aculmination of all the hard work we put in. Through most of the season we were losing at lot of close games and this game showcased our resiliency.”
Success in hand, the initial challenge of inexperience presented itself as a blessing in disguise for Weisz and the rest of the men’s basketball team. Weisz explained, "I think knowing the feeling of losing and losing those close game and make up want to win next year. We can put the work in the offseason knowing what it takes to win. We’ll be much that much more ready to win next season.
The Tigers now head into the offseason with the clear goal of matching raw, young talent with experience. However, Weisz was quick to remind that Princeton does not depend on any particular player, but rather that the team thrives as a “sum of the parts.” With talent, experience, and teamwork, Princeton men’s basketball promises great success in the years to come.