Seventeen games into its season, two games into its Ivy League schedule, the men's basketball team is learning some new things. The first of those things is a knowledge of medicine, which leads to the second — the discovery of depth.
With injuries to senior power forward Mason Rocca and junior forward Nathan Walton, the characteristically rigid Princeton lineup has had to learn flexibility quickly in order to fill the holes. Sophomore forwards Mike Bechtold and Ray Robins have changed from bit players to regulars over the last few games, giving the Tigers a new look on the court.
The most recent subtraction from Princeton's frontcourt was Walton, who broke his hand in practice on January 19. The injury has mended nicely, however, as Walton contributed a vital basket and two rebounds in the late stages of the Tigers' win over Columbia.
Rocca's recovery from ankle surgery has not been nearly as swift.
Although early predictions placed the power forward's return as early as last weekend, it is now questionable as to whether he will be available two weeks from now. The healing process progressed smoothly through the first few weeks but was bumped off course by an infection.
Merely a flesh wound
The infection is due to the improper healing of the wound, wherein the surface of the cut seals before the lower levels have properly knitted. Fluid then fills the space underneath the skin. Believing his injury healed, Rocca resumed training prematurely, only to cause the fluid to leak into neighboring parts of his leg. His lower leg is now immobilized in a brace to avoid future mishaps, and his training has been reduced to lifting weights.
"It's obviously discouraging," Rocca said, "but fortunately, the team's playing well."
Well enough, in fact, to win their last three games, including two over Ivy League opponents. In the first of those games, a nonconference 90-49 thrashing of Catholic, Robins outdid himself.
Robins, who appeared in only 10 games last year, threw 27 points down on the Cardinals. It was the third highest point total by a Tiger this year and 11 more than Robins had previously scored in his entire career.
Coach Bill Carmody rewarded Robins with his first collegiate start and 38 minutes of playing time against Cornell. Robins scored only three points, but had five assists and five rebounds in the contest. The next day against Columbia, he added five points to the Tigers' winning 53-point total.
Bechtold has also emerged from obscurity last season to crack into Carmody's rotation this year. After making just three appearances last season, he has averaged 11 minutes per game this season.
In the Tigers' surprisingly hard-fought 37-35 win over Monmouth Nov. 20, Bechtold nailed the clinching three pointer to put the Tigers up by two with a minute left. Recently, Bechtold set a career high in points against Catholic with 12, and knocked down several important threes on his way to nine points in a narrow victory over Columbia.
Together, Robins and Bechtold have exceeded expectations in stopping gaps while the regulars are absent.
"Everyone's stepping up," Rocca said. "It's really good to see. A lot of guys who don't have too much experience are playing like they do have experience."