Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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SOUND ADVICE: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Sydney Johnson makes a point to senior guard and co-captain Dan Mavraides. The Tigers have been taking Johnson’s instructions to heart as they have started 16-4 overall and 4-0 in Ivy League play. Princeton will look to keep rolling this week as it was slated to host Penn on February 8 before playing at Columbia on February 11 and at Cornell the next night.

PU Men’s Basketball Proves Tough at Home, Winning Harvard Clash, Topping Dartmouth

Bill Alden

With a throng of more than 4,000 on hand at Jadwin Gym and a national television audience watching on ESPNU, the Princeton University men’s basketball team wanted to put on a show as it hosted Harvard last Friday evening.

Some six minutes into the eagerly awaited showdown between teams who both entered the night undefeated in Ivy League play, it looked like the Tigers may be producing a flop as they fell behind 15-4 with sophomore star Ian Hummer on the bench with two fouls.

Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson knew his club was on the ropes. “We talked about being in big moments and that was probably a big one so early in the game,” said Johnson “Ian is one of our better players and other guys had to step up.”

The Tigers seized the moment, though, utilizing some stifling defense to claw back into the contest, closing the half with a 10-5 run to trail by just 30-29 heading into intermission.

In the first six minutes of the second half, the Tigers picked up where they left off, outscoring Harvard 16-4 to build an 11-point lead of their own at 45-34.

“We tried to address some things defensively, even though at times in the first half I thought we very, very good,” said Johnson.

“There were some things that we needed to tighten up and the guys just came out and really just dug in. It was pretty special thing to see how passionate we were in that stretch.”

That passion helped Princeton stymie a late Harvard run as the Tigers pulled out a 65-61 win to the delight of most in the crowd of 4,148 at Jadwin.

While Johnson noted that it is still early in the Ivy campaign, he saw the Harvard win as a good sign for his team.

“I think what it means in terms of how these guys have played is that we are growing up a bit,” said Johnson.

“I am going to guess that we are going to have a few more games like this coming up so it is just one game. It is nice to hold home court but we realize that there are some big challenges coming up.”

A night later, the Tigers showed their maturity as they overcame a sluggish start to beat Dartmouth 68-53 in improving to 16-4 overall and 4-0 in Ivy play.

Reflecting on Princeton’s second half surge against Harvard, Tiger senior guard and co-captain Mavraides had a good feeling going into the last 20 minutes of regulation.

“We kind of made a little run at the end of the first half,” said Mavraides. “It was pretty close, we were down by one at half. Both coaches were laying into each team saying you have got to step it up, these first five minutes are huge. To come out and get a 10-point lead was just huge. The rest of the game they were playing catch up and we are playing more confident and a little more composed.”

Mavraides showed his composure as he hit three key free throws in the last 32 seconds of the contest.

“I was just trying to stay as focused as possible, you block out the fans and everything else,” explained Mavraides, who ended up with 15 points and seven rebounds in the win with Hummer scoring a game-high 17 points and Kareem Maddox chipping in 14 points and five rebounds.

“You blank out the situation and just shoot it. We shoot 100 free throws a day and it is no different. You just try to stay focused and knock them down.”

The Tigers’ ability to pull out another close game didn’t surprise Mavraides.

“I think we have had a lot of that during the season compared to other teams I have been on,” said Mavraides.

“We have been in every different scenario and every situation it seems. We have been up by a lot of points, we have been down a lot of points and we have been successful. This team is very prepared for any situation; it shows a lot about our character and the cohesion on the team.”

Johnson, for his part, enjoyed the way the raucous student section responded to Princeton’s success against Harvard.

“It was great, spectacular,” said Johnson, when asked about the Jadwin crowd which was also out in force the next night against Dartmouth as the Tigers improved to 9-0 at home this season.

“I remember playing Pennsylvania as a player and it was standing room only. There were students along the baseline and the side, it came pretty dang close tonight. I know that these guys have close friends who were in the student section and it is a special moment. Since I have been here, all I have ever wanted is for these guys to have the type of experience I had and we are getting close.”

Mavraides and his teammates showed their appreciation for the support, making a beeline for the student section after the win and lingering with their friends.

“It means the world to us; that adds so much,” said Mavraides, who was hoping for a raucous crowd on February 8 when Princeton hosted Penn in its last home appearance for 17 days.

“When you make a shot and you hear the gym go crazy, it means a lot. For the other team, it is definitely tougher playing in a feisty environment. It is pressure, they can’t hear what they are calling and things like that. The fans were phenomenal tonight.”

If the Tigers can keep playing tough, there should be some more phenomenal nights ahead this winter.

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