Friday’s win over Columbia (6–11, 1–2 Ivy) wasn’t the prettiest game ever played, but Princeton (11–5, 3–0) will certainly take it.
The Tigers, who maintained a perfect conference record and now stand alone atop the Ivy standings, shot just 35.8 percent from the field but still managed to grind out a 55–43 win on the road.
Once again, it was Princeton’s defense and rebounding that earned it the win. The Tigers held Columbia, normally a strong perimeter shooting team, to 2–18 from three and 30.5 percent from the field. Quinton Adler, one of the most prolific outside shooters in the Ivy League, made just one three, and Gabe Stefanini, Columbia’s second leading scorer, managed just five points on 2–10 shooting.
“Last week against Cornell, I thought Stefanini had a terrific game, and [senior guard] Myles [Stephens] was all over him defensively, and [first-year guard] Jaelin [Llewellyn] on Adlesh,” said head coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “Those guys can really hurt you, and I thought we had a really good start.”
Despite a three week break from conference play due to finals, the Tigers didn’t show any signs of rust. Llewellyn scored on the first possession of the game, and Princeton leaped out to an early 16–4 lead.
Princeton built off that start to take a 34–17 lead into halftime. The Tigers began the second half sluggish offensively, struggling with turnovers and not hitting a field goal until more than seven minutes into the half. Columbia narrowed the deficit but was unable to complete the comeback.
“We gave up some points to start the second half, but the focus was really high level,” said Henderson.
“That’s the reward of playing good defense in the first half,” said Stephens. “You know they’re going to make a run, and you absorb that and get back at it.”
Friday’s contest was also the first Ivy League game this year for Princeton without senior guard Devin Cannady, out indefinitely with a suspension.
Sophomore guard Ryan Schwieger helped fill the void created by Cannady’s absence. Schwieger didn’t see any playing time in Princeton’s previous Ivy game against Penn but was the team’s second leading scorer with 15 points against Columbia. The 6’6 sophomore found success posting up Columbia’s smaller guards, getting to the free throw line eight times and making seven of them.
“All we’ve been saying to him is play with confidence,” said Henderson. “He really put people on his back getting us easy baskets.”
Senior forward Myles Stephens also continued to lead Princeton both offensively and defensively. He contained Stefanini, Columbia’s most dynamic playmaker, while also contributing 17 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double in three Ivy League games.
“I embrace it,” said Stephens of his heavy role on both ends of the floor. “I know when I get my defense going, it gets our team going on defense, and with that comes our offense.”
The Tigers are back in action Saturday night with a game at Cornell (10–9, 2–1) to complete their New York road trip. Princeton will seek to continue its stellar defensive play by containing a Cornell offense led by Ivy League scoring leader Matt Morgan and hope that some of its own shots will start to fall as well.