The saying goes, “it’s not how you start, but how you finish.” For the Princeton men’s basketball team, these words are becoming more real with each passing game — most recently, a 63–58 win over rival Penn at home.
The Tigers (6–8, 2–0 Ivy), who won only one of their first eight games to start the season, have now won five of their last six, including a sweep of Penn (7–6, 0–2) to begin league play 2–0. For Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98, starting 2–0 is sweet, but sweeping a rival is even sweeter.
“[Penn] swept us two years ago and it buried us,” Henderson said. “They bring [it] out in us and that’s what rivals should be. I think that’s the best thing about sports.”
From the outset, it was clear that this game had a different intensity than Princeton’s 14-point win last Saturday in the Palestra. The Quakers shot out of the gates to a 10–2 lead, but Princeton answered immediately with the help of a pair of three-pointers from junior guard Ryan Schwieger to tie the game at 10.
“They punched us in the face bad. We were holding on in the first few minutes of the game, but we wrestled control back. I just think the guys have been really locked in,” Henderson said.
The Tigers would not stop there, as they soon went on an 18–3 run to pull ahead by 12 points, their largest lead of the game. By the time the first half buzzer sounded, Princeton had seven three-pointers, four of which belonged to Schwieger, and the Tigers went into the locker room with a 36–28 lead. Especially pleasing to fans was Princeton’s newfound resilience on both sides of the court.
“We just didn’t get discouraged,” Schweiger said. “I think we got discouraged earlier in the year when we went down, but last game they made a couple runs and we fought back, and this game we were up and we just kept going.”
A soaring dunk by first-year forward Tosan Evbuomwan to start the second half made it clear that not even the intermission could diminish Princeton’s first-half intensity, as this time, it was the Tigers to start the half on a 10–2 run. However, the Quakers were determined to make sure this game did not turn out like the last, clawing back to cut the Princeton lead to six points with roughly four minutes left to play. A Devon Goodman three-pointer made it a one-possession game with 39 seconds remaining, but once again, Princeton answered back.
With one second left on the shot clock, senior guard Jose Morales made an acrobatic layup to seal the game. A back-up point guard, Morales may have been an unlikely hero to many, but Henderson put him in the game for a reason.
“He may be a knucklehead, but he’s our knucklehead. I say it lovingly, but that kid has a lot of moxie,” Henderson said.
With final exams approaching, the Tigers now have a three-week break from Ivy games until their back-to-back at home against Dartmouth and Harvard at the end of the month. Whether the break will be a roadblock that stalls Princeton’s positive momentum or a constructive period to hone in on areas that still need improvement, Henderson will make sure his players are ready for the rest of Ivy League play.
“For us, it’s like a whole new season.”