Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 5
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
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DAN THE MAN: Princeton University men’s basketball star Dan Mavraides heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, Mavraides scored a game-high 22 points to help Princeton edge Harvard 77-71. It was the fifth win in a row for Princeton which improved to 7-8 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League play. Mavraides was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance last weekend. The Tigers will look to keep on the winning track as they host defending Ivy champion Cornell (14-6 overall, 4-0 Ivy) on February 6 and Columbia (7-11 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on February 7.

PU Men’s Hoops Produces 2-0 Ivy Start, Looks to Keep Intensity Level Constant

Bill Alden

It was one of the worst weekends in a rough season for the Princeton University men’s basketball team.

Traveling up to New England last February to play at Harvard and Dartmouth, the Tigers fell 77-64 to the Crimson in overtime before getting dismantled 71-52 by the Big Green.

As the Tigers made the same trek last weekend, they were determined to make amends for last year’s dismal showing.

“I think we were focused; we were not too tight and we were not too casual,” said Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson in assessing his team’s mood as it rode the bus up to New Hampshire.

“It was a really bad weekend for us last year. We were thoroughly outplayed by Dartmouth and outplayed by Harvard in the last 8-10 minutes. We didn’t play hard and didn’t represent the program the way we should.”

This time around, the Tigers represented the program with aplomb, topping Dartmouth 59-54 last Friday before pulling out a 77-71 nailbiter at Harvard the next night.

The victories gave Princeton its first five-game winning streak since 2004 and left the Tigers at 7-8 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League play, joining Cornell (14-6 overall and 4-0 Ivy) as the only teams undefeated in league play.

Against Dartmouth, Princeton didn’t waste any time showing that it was going be competitive, building a 27-25 lead by halftime.

“Having a lead at half is a confidence builder; it kind of settles nerves,” said Johnson “But in the bigger picture, I want us to get to the point where we can be down at half and still be confident, even on the road.”

The Tigers displayed some confidence down the stretch against Dartmouth, going on a 9-0 run that gave them a 38-31 lead. Later, Princeton reeled off a 9-2 run to go ahead 57-48 with 1:17 remaining, effectively putting the game out of reach for the Big Green.

“All year and since I have gotten here, we have struggled in the winning moments,” said second-year coach Johnson, reflecting on his team’s pivotal runs.

“I think it was just a situation where it came down to who was going to make the right plays. For the first time in a long time, we did that in a league game.”

Junior center Pawel Buczak made a lot of big plays for the Tigers, scoring 14 points with five rebounds and five assists. Dan Mavraides chipped in 13 points for Princeton with Doug Davis and Patrick Saunders adding 11 apiece.

“We are pleased with how far he has come,” said Johnson, referring to Buczak who is averaging 7.7 points and a team-high 4.5 rebounds a game. “We hope he can be consistent throughout league play.”

The Tigers showed good consistency a night later, outlasting Harvard in a thriller that saw eight ties and seven lead changes.

“The guys could have thought a split on the road was OK but they had ambitions for more than that,” said Johnson, who got 22 points from Mavraides with Davis adding 19.

Johnson likes the ambition being shown by rapidly improving sophomore star Mavraides, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance last weekend.

“Dan makes shots and that’s going to help us; he has matured in an unbelievable fashion,” said Johnson of Mavarides, who is now averaging 10.2 points a game and re-set his career-high point total three times in January.

“He struggled last year in making the adjustment from prep school to college. He is very special to the program in terms of his confidence, attention to detail, and the way he holds his teammates accountable. He’s a lot like Kyle Koncz, he gives us so much when he is on the court, doing things other than scoring.”

Former Hun star Davis is proving very special to Princeton as well in his freshman campaign. “Doug comes from a great situation at Hun where academics are a big priority,” asserted Johnson.

“At the same time, he is a real basketball player. He studies the game, he enjoys the game. He is a real crafty player. He handles the academics and then he comes to practice and he wants to be the best basketball player on the court.”

With Princeton having already surpassed its win total from last year when it went 6-23 overall, Johnson is cautiously optimistic.

“We are obviously making some improvement,” said Johnson. “I reminded the guys that we started out 2-0 in the league last year and then we went on to lose a lot of games. We need to be consistent with the effort. If we don’t, we could end up 7-21.”

The Tigers will need a big effort this weekend as they host defending league champion Cornell (14-6 overall, 4-0 Ivy) on February 6 and Columbia (7-11 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on February 7.

“They present a lot of challenges,” said Johnson, referring to Cornell, who went 14-0 in league play last season.

“They were the No. 1 team in the league last year and 94 percent of their points are back and they have the same coaching. They are not only skilled at every position but more experienced. We can’t have a drop in terms of attention to detail. If we play hard enough, we hope to be in the game down the stretch. That’s going to take a lot of effort.”

Johnson knows that his players will have to work hard this week to be ready for the challenges ahead.

“We spent Monday through Thursday last week trying to get as prepared as we could for the weekend,” said Johnson. “We need the same sort of effort this week and we’ll go from there.”

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