Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 51
 
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
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DOWN LOW: Princeton University sophomore center Zach Finley looks to establish position down low for the Tigers in a recent game. Last Sunday, Finley scored a team-high 17 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 71-66 to visiting Manhattan. The Tigers blew a 13-point lead with 11:54 remaining in losing their eighth straight and falling to 2-8 on the season.

Tiger Men’s Basketball Squanders Lead, Falling to Manhattan for 8th Straight Loss

Bill Alden

After absorbing two lopsided losses on the road over the last week, the Princeton University men’s basketball team was happy to be at home Sunday night against Manhattan.

Shaking off the offensive woes which had seen Princeton average just 35 points a game in losses at Penn State and Evansville, the Tigers built a 33-30 halftime lead, hitting on 12-of-22 shots from the field.

With good karma filling Jadwin Gym after a halftime ceremony honoring the 1997-98 PU team on the 10th anniversary of its storied 27-2 season, the Tigers pushed their advantage to 49-36 with 11:54 remaining in the second half.

But then Princeton’s shots stopped falling and Manhattan put on a 14-2 run to get back into the game. The teams traded baskets and the game was knotted at 56-56 with 5:09 remaining.

Featuring a stifling defense and some timely shooting, the Jaspers outscored Princeton 15-10 over the last five minutes to earn a 71-66 win before a Jadwin crowd of 1,903.

Afterward, a glum Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson acknowledged that his team didn’t respond to Manhattan’s late surge.

“They just pressured us and we got on our heels,” said Johnson, whose team lost its eight straight to fall to 2-8 on the season.

“As an entire group, we didn’t respond. It’s disappointing and it’s a tough way to lose just from the standpoint that they punched and we didn’t counterpunch.”

Princeton sophomore center Zach Finley, who scored all of his team-high 17 points in the first 29 minutes of the game, said that Manhattan turned up the defensive heat down the stretch.

“I think it was definitely the pressure they put on us halfway through the second half,” said Finley, who is averaging a team-high 11.9 points per game.

“We struggled taking care of the ball. I think part of why we struggled in getting it down low was because it was hard to get into our offense. It’s hard to get things set up when you are struggling to get the ball up the court.”

Earlier in the evening, Princeton seemed to be clicking on all cylinders offensively as it built up its double-digit lead. “We were up 13 and we certainly liked that position,” said Johnson.

“We have been playing catchup and some tough teams. We knew that Manhattan was good; we could see from some of the wins they have had and how they are going about things. We knew they were going to be a challenge. Clearly we liked where we were but we don’t like where we finished.”

The Tigers’ failure to come up with big defensive stops also contributed to the defeat as Manhattan shot 64 percent in the second half.

“We were playing around with zone and man and we felt comfortable with the Xs and Os,” said Johnson.

“We could have been more attentive to what they were trying to accomplish. They certainly drove the ball; they looked to get it along the baseline. In key moments, we didn’t get the stops we needed and it was decisive. Those are the type of games that show up in our league so we hope we’ll be able to nick that. We believe we will; we’ve got to do it.”

While Johnson is frustrated by the Tigers’ eight-game losing streak, he hasn’t lost his upbeat approach to things.

“It does [play on the mind] a bit; I think you relax a bit [when you get a win],” said Johnson.

“It’s hard for me to keep down. I was really, really excited and up for the game in the shootaround. I was eager to see these guys do OK and get the weight off of their backs.”

Johnson is confident the wins will come. “Apart from a lackluster effort we had against Evansville, I think these guys have approached every game in the right way,” asserted Johnson, whose team plays at Marshall on December 22.

“Clearly we want to win to confirm some of the good things that they are doing and that just hasn’t come. It’s just really disappointing; there is a lot of basketball to be played. I will tell you that the guys are giving us the effort; it’s just that there are decisive moments where we aren’t following through and I think if we can do that, different outcomes will come.”

Finley admitted that the team is feeling the weight of its steady diet of losing. “It’s definitely frustrating,” said Finley.

“We have played some good teams. We are working hard in practice. No one wants to lose. I wouldn’t say we are desperate when we go out there and play; we’re just trying to go out there and win. It’s hard when it doesn’t happen.”

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