Tiger Men's Basketball Hits a Lull Needs Variety to Spice Things Up
By Bill Alden
When it comes to the Princeton University men's basketball program, the most reliable source of straight talk is generally senior co-captain Ed Persia.
A hardened veteran of Tiger hoops wars who has seen his share of ups and downs in his college career, Persia is known for cutting to the chase when it comes to his analysis of the state of the team.
After the Tigers' distressing 47-44 loss to Lafayette on December 22 before 3,542 at Jadwin Gym which was ¬Princeton's third loss in a row after a promising 4-1 start, Persia didn't mince words.
"I'm embarrassed for our team, not to take anything away from Lafayette," said Persia, who scored a season-high 12 points in the loss to the Leopards. "That was a game that came down to heart and doing the little things and we just didn't do them tonight. It's a game we should win, especially at home. We seem a little mixed up right now."
In Persia's view, the Tigers will need to show more variety if they are to spice things up. "We got in lulls tonight where we ran the same play over and over," said Persia in the drawl of his native Texas as he reflected on a game which saw the Tigers shoot an anemic 29.8 percent (17-57) from the field. "We're not real aggressive going to the basket. We try to mix it up and get out on the break a little bit to score on transition. I can't say that we're doing that right now."
Tiger head coach John Thompson III didn't like what he saw in the Tigers' effort. "It was a really choppy game," said Thompson, whose club built a 29-16 lead early in the second half only to see it evaporate under a barrage of Lafayette three-pointers. "Both teams had trouble scoring. I don't think that we ever got in a comfort level."
Thompson, though, believes the Lafayette loss was a valuable, if hard, lesson in the team's pre-Ivy League schedule. "We need to regroup and grow from this," said Thompson, whose club was slated to play at Loyola on December 29 before travelling to Oklahoma City to face national power Oklahoma on January 3.
"Overall, I think we have been getting better. The good thing about playing in a tough environment like the RAC (Rutgers) or going down to Duke is that you get a chance to evaluate and see where your team needs improvement."
One thing that must change is the Tigers' penchant for living and dying with the three-pointers. In its four wins, Princeton is shooting 32 for 78 (41percent) from three-point range while they are shooting 23 for 93 (25 percent) from long distance in their four losses.
"At some point we need to start throwing it down to Judson [Wallace] and Mike [Stephens], not necessarily for those guys to score but for them to pass the ball around," acknowledged Thompson. "We want to keep improving."
Persia believes that the holiday break will help revitalize the team. "I think that this break is the best thing that can happen to us," said Persia. "We need to get some time at home, with our parents and family taking care of us. We practice and play so much, it's a relief to have a couple of days with no basketball to think about."
When the team returns from its break, Persia is confident the Tigers can right themselves in time for the Ivy push. "The same situation has happened to us every year since I've been here," explained Persia, referring to the team's current lull.
"Usually we come out of it by the coaches making us run the offense. We need to be disciplined to stick with it, setting good screens, running time off the shot clock. I know from my experience here that we have a really, really good team. At certain points we're going to look like we can beat anybody."