In a game of ups and downs, the men’s basketball team escaped with a win in the Ivy season-opener against Penn on Saturday night. Though the Tigers amassed a 34-17 lead to conclude the first half, a slow start in the second brought the Quakers back into the ballgame. However, the veteran Princeton team led by head coach Mitch Henderson outlasted Penn down the stretch to grab the win.
Coming into Saturday night’s game, Princeton had reason to be confident. In fact, the Tigers had triumphed in their previous five meetings against Penn. Most notably, Princeton outlasted the Quakers in a 73-71 overtime thriller this time one year ago.
For much of the first half on Saturday, turnovers and fouls plagued the Quakers. Princeton, in turn, made quick work of their opponent’s stuttering start. Junior guard Amir Bell led the Tigers with 10 points in the half, never missing the net.
The first half also featured Princeton’s size advantage over the smaller Quakers. While Penn relied on its shooting backcourt, Princeton’s big men dominated the boards, out-rebounding Penn 19-12 in the first half. Sophomore guard Myles Stephens, in particular, worked his way towards a career high of 10 rebounds, seven of which took place in the first half.
The story in the second half could not have been more different.
Following the half, Penn’s reliance on its backcourt began to pay dividends. Despite missing every single three pointer in the first half, the Quakers shot seven for nine from downtown in the second. Meanwhile, Princeton struggled to find the net during the same period.
As sophomore guard Devin Cannady said after the game, Penn simply “found its shooters”.
As soon as Penn tied the game with seven minutes remaining, Henderson was forced to call a timeout as the Quakers celebrated. A post-game interview would reveal Henderson’s time out message: remain calm. Even Penn’s head coach Steve Donahue would eventually applaud Princeton’s composure as the game changer.
Following the timeout, Princeton shared the ball and regained its offense. An initial Cannady jumper lead to a momentum-changing three pointer from Stephens. Thereafter, the Tigers played tight defense to close out the game against a young, energetic Penn team.
For the record books, the win extended Princeton’s win streak to four in a row. Additionally, coach Henderson now ranks third in most wins for a Princeton men’s basketball coach, surpassing “Butch” van Breda Kolff ’45.
Looking ahead, the Tigers will host Brown and Yale this coming Friday and Saturday, respectively. The main attention will be on the Yale-Princeton game as the Bulldogs narrowly edged out the Tigers to earn the NCAA-bid last year. This year, Saturday’s game could very well be a preview of the newly-instated end-of-season Ivy League championships.