Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 51
 
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
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HUMMING ALONG: Princeton University men’s basketball freshman forward Ian Hummer, right, battled for a rebound in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, Hummer contributed eight points and five rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench to help Princeton edge Monmouth 46-42 and win its third game in a row.

PU Men’s Hoops Emphasizing Tough Defense, Pushes Win Streak to 3 by Edging Monmouth

Bill Alden

During his playing days with the Princeton University men’s basketball team, Sydney Johnson put a premium on playing superb defense.

Johnson, a 1997 Princeton alum, is the program’s all-time leader in steals with 169. Former Tiger head coach Bill Carmody called Johnson “the best defensive player I have ever coached at Princeton.”

Johnson’s value as a defensive force is reflected by the fact that he won the Ivy League Player of the Year Award in 1997 averaging 9.3 points a game, the only person to win the honor while scoring less than 10 points a contest.

Now in his third season as the head men’s basketball coach at his alma mater, Johnson is instilling his commitment to defense into his charges.

Last Thursday, the Tigers employed some stifling defense in edging visiting Monmouth 46-42 before a crowd of 1,530 at Jadwin Gym. Princeton held the Hawks to 33.3 percent shooting (15-for-45), including 0-for-11 from three-point range.

Princeton needed that defense as it shot 24 percent in the first half as it built a slim 20-17 lead by intermission. The Tigers built a 33-23 lead with 8:19 left in the second half and then had to hang on as Monmouth narrowed the lead to three points in the last minute of regulation.

The victory was Princeton’s third in a row and improved the Tigers to 5-4 on the season.

As the Princeton players reflected on the gritty win, they made it clear that Johnson’s emphasis on defense has taken hold.

Sophomore guard Doug Davis scored Princeton’s first 11 points as his teammates kept misfiring but he wasn’t fazed by carrying the offensive load.

“We locked up on defense; I know it was probably boring for the fans,” said Davis, who ended the evening with a game-high 20 points.

“I see us growing and playing some good defense. I think defensively we are growing more than anything. Like tonight, the shots aren’t always going to fall but if we continue to play defense, I think we can play with anybody. As long as we lock up on defense, the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Junior guard Marcus Schroeder set a career single-game best with five steals in the win but didn’t think he stood out from the rest of his teammates as Princeton forced 20 turnovers on the evening.

“Doug probably got two hands on balls and I just picked them up,” said Schroeder with a laugh.

“I kind of got lucky there. Just overall defensively for our team, we did a good job. Tonight, I think they didn’t hit any threes and that’s where they get some of their points. I think it was overall a good team defensive effort, especially because we weren’t shooting the ball well.”

Freshman forward Ian Hummer has proved to be a quick learner, pulling down five rebounds and getting a blocked shot in his 29 minutes off the bench in the Monmouth game.

“We came out pretty slow in the beginning but we kind of picked it up a little offensively but definitely defensively,” said Hummer.

“We really showed that we can play defense for a whole game and not just parts of it. We need to take that into the games coming up.”

Sounding like a proud father, Johnson seconded his players’ comments.

“I think that we just cannot win basketball games if we don’t defend,” said Johnson, whose team has limited its foes to 46.6 points a contest in its three-game winning streak and has held opponents to 42.3 percent shooting on the season.

“I think as I am listening to them when they are talking and giving interviews, I hear that and I am pleased with that because I think they understand. They need to understand the importance of getting stops every trip down and if you don’t get a stop, it is a tough shot for the opponent. If you are forcing your opponent to shoot a lot of tough shots, you’ve got a chance.”

Based on his battles with Monmouth during his playing days, Johnson knew that his team would have a tough time with the Hawks.

“I remember when I played here, that [Monmouth] was a really tough game,” said Johnson.

“When we were really good, they beat us and a year later where they were really good, we beat them. It was kind of blow for blow. I have a lot of respect for coach Dave Calloway, [longtime Monmouth head coach], and what he has done with his program over the years.”

Johnson is confident that Princeton will do more offensively as the season goes on.

“We’ve got guys who can shoot the ball; we’ve got an offense that can get us good shots,” said Johnson, whose team’s game at Maine last Sunday was postponed due to travel difficulties resulting from the snow storm that blanketed the east coast last weekend. “We are hopeful that will come around at some point.”

In the meantime, Johnson has no qualms about relying on defense as his team looks to extend its winning streak when it hosts Wagner on December 30.

“We know we haven’t lost our last game; we have some challenges ahead of us,” said Johnson.

“I am pleased with how we are going about our business defensively. We definitely want to win every game we play but defensively we have been pretty solid so hopefully that continues.”

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