While the rest of campus was busy preparing for finals, on Dec. 13 men’s basketball (10–1 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) decisively took down the Division-III Bryn Athyn Lions (8–2 overall, 3–0 United East) in a 92–40 blowout win. Later that evening, a defensive masterclass powered women’s basketball (8–3 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) past in-state rival Rutgers (6–8 overall, 0–1 Big Ten), 66–55.
74 bench points carry men’s basketball to blowout win
The men jumped out in front early against the Lions. Sophomore forward Caden Pierce won the opening tip, and a pick-and-roll involving Pierce and sophomore guard Xaivian Lee gave the Tigers their first points with 19:36 remaining in the first half. Additional points from senior forward Zach Martini, Pierce, and Lee gave Princeton an early 9–0 lead, at which point head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 substituted out every starter in favor of the Tigers’ bench — and they did not disappoint.
“We’ve been playing so many minutes with our major guys,” said Henderson. “It’s just such a gift for the rest of the guys to be able to play.”
The Tigers were led by junior guard Darius Gakwasi, who dropped a career-high 18 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Gakwasi checked into the game and immediately got to work, spoiling Lions guard Will Little’s crossover and converting on the other end with a smooth finish to put Princeton up 15–3 with 14:12 left in the first half. Sophomore forward Vernon Collins and Gakwasi added four more to make it 19–5, and soon enough the starters were checked back in to give Princeton a 28–5 boost going into the media timeout.
After a set of one-sided exchanges and rebounds from the Tigers, they ended the half with a triumphant 53–15.
The Tigers started the second half with a roar. Led by two first-year guards — Dalen Davis, who dished out a career-high seven assists, and Jackson Hicke — a second 14–0 run stretched Princeton’s lead to 52, the largest of the contest. Hicke’s double-double on Wednesday was the first of his career, and his season-high 15 boards were crucial for the Tigers on both the offensive and defensive ends.
“Experience is the biggest thing,” said Hicke. “I haven’t really been used to the speed of the game yet … but the extended stretch helped a lot. I’m getting more used to the chemistry and the speed of the game.”
Later, Bryn Athyn found some success after switching their 2–3 zone defense to man-to-man. The Lions went on a 6–2 run to make a small cut into the lead, bringing the score to 69–21 with 13:02 left in the game. The Lions’ deficit kept growing throughout the second half, and the team fell short as the Tigers’ 74 bench points finished off the fixture, 92–40.
Women's basketball tops Rutgers at Jadwin
An hour later, first-year guard Skye Belker opened up the women’s game against Rutgers with a clean layup in traffic. Junior forward Parker Hill followed up with a steal that sophomore guard Madison St. Rose converted into a jumper behind the elbow to put the Tigers up 4–0 just 40 seconds into the quarter.
A second steal, this time from senior forward Ellie Mitchell, led to a jumper of her own on the other end to bolster the Tigers’ lead, 6–0, just 1:11 into the game. The Scarlet Knights immediately took a timeout to regroup, but struggled to maintain a possession under the Tigers’ defensive prowess. Princeton took the ball away five times in just the first four minutes of play.
“Our hands were everywhere,” said head coach Carla Berube. “We were digging and doubling and helping and just played really tough, tough defense.”
Soon after, St. Rose was left wide open in the corner to drill a three-pointer off of a cross-court pass from senior guard Kaitlyn Chen with 6:12 remaining to complete the Tigers’ 13–0 run to open the match. A jumper from Rutgers center Kassondra Brown gave the Scarlet Knights their first points, followed by a three-pointer from the wing from guard Kaylene Smikle.
St. Rose answered with a corner three-pointer of her own on the other end to tack on her 10th point of the game, as St. Rose would go on to finish with 17 on 7–for–13 shooting.
“Recently, I’ve been trying to focus for the first five minutes,” St. Rose told the ‘Prince.’ “I was just hot and kept shooting … and my teammates were trusting me with the ball and making these shots.”
Later, first-year guard Ashley Chea hit a contested fadeaway in the corner over a Rutgers forward to put the Tigers ahead 22–7 near the end of the first quarter.
The Tigers kept things rolling in the second. Hill started it off with a layup off a St. Rose dime to push the lead to 25–10 1:41 into the quarter. With 5:13 remaining in the quarter, Chen turned on the spin cycle in the paint and released a teardrop to give the Tigers a 29–10 lead.
With 3:34 to go before halftime, Mitchell hustled to grab a tough offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to Chea, who drilled a contested three-pointer to give Princeton a 34–12 edge. Both teams continued to find the basket for the rest of the half — but to end it, Chen scissor-stepped, stopped on a dime, and let a jumper go as the buzzer sounded to put the Tigers up 38–17 going into the third. The Chen-Chea backcourt combined for 32 points on 7-for-13 and 5-for-9 shooting, respectively.
“[Chea] makes a splash whenever she comes in,” explained Berube. “She’s a prolific three-point shooter. It takes a lot of patience to run our offense, and when she’s playing with Kaitlyn, she can just score it and make plays.”
Hill started off the third quarter with a smothering, blocking Rutgers’ first shot of the period. Chen picked up the basketball and sent it soaring to St. Rose on the other end who finished the play in transition, putting the Tigers up 40–17. Another long feed from Chen, her fifth assist of the game, saw Belker give Rutgers two more on a fastbreak to make it 45–20 with 7:22 left in the quarter.
“[Chen] is a very gifted offensive player, whether she’s making plays for others, or just going by people and scoring,” said Berube. “She’s taken us on her shoulders.”
Rutgers head coach Coquese Washington also had high praise for Chen.
“She’s an experienced, confident leader,” said Washington. “Her leadership… fuels [the Tigers] and gives everybody confidence. She’s a tough guard who plays with a fierceness, a calmness, and a poise.”
An 11–4 Rutgers run followed, sparked by a Smikle three-pointer from the top of the key at the 6:12 mark put the tally at 49–31 in Princeton’s favor. Jumpers from Chea and Chen were Princeton’s final points of the third as the Tigers went into the final quarter with a 20 point lead, 53–33.
To open up the last 10 minutes, Chen went coast-to-coast and finished with a strong and-one, sinking the free throw to surge the Tigers ahead, 56–33. With 8:11 left in the game, her hesitation dribble into another floater brought the score to 60–38.
Rutgers continued to close the gap. The Tigers left Rutgers guard Antonia Bates wide open at the top of the key, allowing her to sink a three-pointer with 3:52 remaining. Four more good baskets from the away side and a forced shot clock violation gave the Scarlet Knights a glimmer of hope, but soon enough Chea ran out the clock to end the Garden State showdown, 66–55.
“I would love to [see the series with Rutgers continue],” said Berube. “We love to be able to play great competition in our own state… It was just a great environment.”
Men’s basketball will remain in Princeton to face off against the Delaware Valley Aggies (5–4 overall, 0–0 Middle Atlantic) on Dec. 22, while women’s basketball will be in Burlington, Vt. on Dec. 29 to take on the Vermont Catamounts (7–5 overall, 0–0 America East).
Yousif Mohamed is a Sports contributor for the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.