Midway through the second half against Columbia Saturday night, Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 was playing an all-underclassman lineup.
With senior guard Myles Stephens getting a breather and junior center Richmond Aririguzoh in foul trouble, first-years Ethan Wright, Max Johns, and Jaelin Llewellyn, and sophomores Sebastian Much and Ryan Schwieger were on the floor for the Tigers.
Llewellyn brought the ball up for Princeton, and it ended up with Schwieger in the corner. He drove into the paint and threw a pass deflected by two Columbia defenders. Llewellyn dove on the floor for the ball and passed to Wright. Wright slipped, and the ball ended up in Schwieger’s hands again. As the shot clock ran down, he split a Columbia double team and tossed up a runner in the paint. Naturally, it went in.
That play was representative of the weekend for the Tigers. There was some chaos, but the team’s young core propelled it to a pair of wins.
First-years and sophomores scored 57 of Princeton’s 68 points Friday night against Cornell and 61 of its 79 on Saturday against Columbia. With senior guard Devin Cannady missing both games for an undisclosed personal matter, and Stephens and Aririguzoh battling an assortment of double teams, foul trouble, and fatigue associated with guarding the other team’s best player, that sort of contribution was gravely needed.
The headline performance came from Schwieger. He scored a career-high 23 points against Cornell and added another 20 against Columbia.
Schwieger hasn’t even been a constant fixture in the lineup for much of the season. He played nine minutes total last weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth. Henderson admitted following Friday’s game that Schwieger’s casual, laid-back demeanor contrasts with Henderson’s intensity.
But the Tigers need what he brings offensively, regardless of whether Cannady is in the lineup. At six feet, six inches, his size presents a mismatch for smaller guards in the post. His outside shooting (he was six for 10 behind the arc this weekend) helps space the floor and boosts an offense that has struggled to consistently make threes this year.
“Coach tells me to be aggressive, my teammates tell me to be aggressive,” said Schwieger after the win over Cornell. “I just had that mindset going in and got to the rim early.”
Another sophomore, forward Jerome Desrosiers, quietly posted a pair of double-doubles this weekend, with 11 points and 10 rebounds against Cornell, and 14 points and 10 rebounds against Columbia.
Desrosiers is also a capable three-point shooter. But his biggest strengths are his toughness and physicality, which make him an invaluable asset to Princeton’s defense and rebounding efforts. When Aririguzoh went to the bench in the second half against Columbia, Desrosiers found himself matched up with 6’10” Columbia forward Patrick Tapé. For the most part, he held up well.
“Tapé is strong, and he knows how to work his angles in the post,” said Desrosiers. “I think I got a block on him too, so I felt great after that. I feel like I can guard a lot of people, and he was one of them.”
A trio of freshman also stepped up this weekend. Two of them, Max Johns and Ethan Wright, came off the bench. Wright, receiving his first significant minutes in an Ivy game, hit two threes against Cornell and three against Columbia, recording 17 points total. Johns seems to have endeared himself to Henderson with his propensity for defense and cutting and played 23 minutes off the bench against Columbia.
“I thought Ethan played terrific this weekend,” said Henderson. “His shotmaking was a good part of us going 2–0 on the weekend.”
And apparently, Henderson isn’t the only Princeton coach appreciative of Johns’ efforts.
“Coach Carril called me one night and was like ‘Max Johns this’ and ‘Max Johns that’,” Henderson said.
The third, Jaelin Llewellyn, again quarterbacked the Princeton offense from the point guard position. He scored 15 points against Cornell but shot just 3–14 against Columbia. With his athleticism and ball-handling ability, he has little trouble generating open shots for himself. Eventually, they’ll start falling.
“He’s got to keep shooting,” Henderson said. “Bryce Aiken is a junior and he’s making all these shots. He missed a lot as a freshman too,” he added, referencing the Harvard guard who hit a game-winning buzzer-beater against Yale Saturday.
Llewellyn has also been making strides with his decision-making and defense. In 36 minutes of play Saturday night, he had no turnovers, and he limited Columbia marksman Quinton Adlesh to 11 points.
We’ve known all season that these players are crucial to Princeton’s future. This weekend, we learned they are just as important to its present.