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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

DEPTH CHARGE: Princeton reserve center Mike Stephens lofts a hook shot in the Tigers' recent 51-49 loss to Rutgers. Stephens, who scored a career-high 10 points in Princeton's 69-51 loss last Wednesday to Duke, has emerged as a key force off the bench for the 4-3 Tigers.
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Tiger Men's Hoops Falls to Duke But Shows Depth, Defensive Zeal

By Bill Alden

The prospect of facing the Duke men's basketball team at raucous Cameron Indoor Stadium is enough to strike fear into most visiting clubs.

But the Princeton men's basketball team came into its clash last Wednesday at Duke relishing its opportunity to duel the third-ranked Blue Devils.

"We want to push ourselves and that's what these non-conference games are about," said Tiger forward Andre Logan as he looked ahead to Princeton's venture down Tobacco Road to Durham where Duke had won its last 31 games.

"Everyone thinks we're soft but we're not. We'll go out and play physical if you want to play physical. This is a challenge. If we execute our stuff, we're always going to be in the game."

Princeton was certainly up to the challenge in the early going as the combination of its deliberate offense and ball-hawking defense put Duke on the back foot and quieted the "Cameron crazies." Princeton rallied from a 21-11 deficit to tie the game at 25-25 with 2:42 remaining in the first half and went into the break trailing by 31-27.

The Tigers narrowed the margin to 34-33 with 17:53 remaining in the contest but committing nine turnovers in the next 10 minutes and going ice-cold from the three-point range (0-12 in the half) opened the door for Duke to pull away to a 69-51 win.

Afterward, it was clear that Princeton had made an impression on the 7-1 Blue Devils. "I think we were forcing a lot of things on offense [in the first half], said Duke shooting guard J.J. Redick.

"We were driving and getting the ball stripped. This was a tough game to play. Princeton is a very tough team to play against because of the way they play offense. It's so deliberate, you have to plan defense for 30 seconds at a time."

Duke's Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, for his part, was able to appreciate the Tigers' unique brand of basketball. "I really enjoy watching them play," said the venerable Coach K. "It's five guys out there but they play as one. John [Thompson III] has done a terrific job with that team."

Coach Thompson was most heartened by the play of his supporting cast which saw Logan come off the bench to score a team-high 16 points in 32 minutes and center Mike Stephens chip in a career-high 10 points.

"I've said from the beginning of this year that with our team it's not going to be about who's starting and who isn't," said Thompson in his post-game media conference. "Every guy we put out there is capable of doing what Andre and Mike did tonight. It's not a surprise to me or to our players."

The Tigers continue their pre-league segment of the schedule by hosting Lafayette on December 22 and then playing at Loyola on December 29 and against national power Oklahoma on January 3 in Oklahoma City, Okla.

If Princeton can build on the performance it put on last Wednesday on Tobacco Road, it will certainly be striking some fear into its league foes as the season unfolds.

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