Princeton Men's Basketball Edges Holy Cross As it Starts 2-0, Gives Thompson Win No. 50
By Bill Alden
The Friday after Thanksgiving turned into a night of milestones for the Princeton University men's basketball team.
In edging previously undefeated Holy Cross 61-55 before 4,430 at Jadwin Gym, the Tigers improved to 2-0 and gave fourth-year head coach John Thompson III the 50th victory of his Princeton career.
Princeton star center Judson Wallace produced his second career scoring high in as many games as he poured in 31 points, marking the first time he has hit the 30 mark in college and the first time a Tiger has accomplished the feat since Chris Young scored 30 against Harvard in January 2000.
While happy with those achievements, the Tigers expect that the milestones will ultimately stand as pleasant footnotes in what is shaping up as a special season.
"I hope it's not a big milestone for me," said Thompson, who now has an overall mark of 50-34 and is the seventh coach in 104 years of Princeton basketball to win 50 or more games. "We'll just have to wait and see how many wins I eventually get so that maybe 50 isn't a big milestone."
Princeton, which is off to its first 2-0 start since 1997-98 when it went 27-2, will achieve a lot of milestones if Wallace keeps up his torrid scoring pace.
The 6'11 Atlanta native is shooting 75 percent from the field (21-28) and is averaging 29.5 points a game, the highest scoring mark since Brian Taylor averaged 30 points after the first two games of the 1971-72 season.
Wallace's outside shooting prowess is no accident. "I'm always working on my outside shot and I think I'm as capable as any center...[at making threes]," said Wallace, who is averaging 23.4 points and shooting at a 60.6 percent clip in his last seven games dating back to February 28 of last season.
Princeton certainly needed Wallace's deadly shooting as it fought off a tough Crusaders squad, the defending Patriot League champs who posted a 26-5 record last season and came into Friday at 2-0.
The Tigers started the game slowly and trailed 26-21 with just under five minutes left in the first half. With Wallace scoring five points in the last 42 seconds, Princeton went into the dressing room with a 31-26 edge.
In the opening 4:10 of the second half, Wallace scored six points as the Tigers built their cushion to 39-27. The Crusaders, however, came roaring back, going on a 15-3 run to knot the game at 42-42 with 8:39 remaining.
Wallace, though, wouldn't let Princeton fold as he hit three 3-pointers in the the next 2:13 to put the Tigers up 53-44 and on their way to victory.
Despite his shooting heroics, Wallace believes his overall game has plenty of room for improvement. "Since I'm the center, I should be held responsible for a certain percentage of the offense and two assists is just sad," acknowledged Wallace, who did have nine rebounds.
Thompson seconded Wallace's analysis. "We don't necessarily want Judson scoring 30 points a night," said the coach who got a solid 11-point performance from freshman Luke Owings as he broke into double figures in points for the first time. "As the season progresses, that will change so that on most nights he'll have more assists than points."
Getting off to such a solid start has Wallace undaunted as he looked ahead to a stretch that will see the Tigers play five straight games on the road including a trip to Fresno, Calif. this weekend in which they will face UC-Irvine on December 5 and Fresno State on December 6 in the McCaffrey Classic.
"I think we can be a very good team but it's a long season and we have a lot of work to do to get better," maintained Wallace. "As far as going on the road, I really like it. I get energy from the crowd getting on us."
Wallace may have to get another source of energy in games away from home because the Tigers figure to silence a lot of crowds if they can build on their promising start.