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Vol. LXIII, No. 2
 
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
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REVENGE FACTOR: Princeton University men’s basketball player Kareem Maddox drives to the basket in action earlier this season. Last Wednesday, Maddox contributed eight points, three rebounds, two assists, and two blocked shots as Princeton topped Lehigh 73-64. The win, which lifted Princeton to 4-8, was particularly sweet since the Tigers had been drubbed 68-49 last year by the Mountain Hawks. Princeton is currently on exam break and will resume play when it hosts Division II Concordia (N.Y.) on January 25.

With Maddox Displaying All-Around Game, Tiger Men’s Hoops Turns Tables on Lehigh

Bill Alden

It was one of the bleakest moments in a rough winter for the Princeton University men’s basketball team.

Playing at Lehigh last January, Princeton fell behind 41-19 at halftime and trailed by 27 points late in the game on the way to getting routed 68-49.

Last Wednesday when 10-3 Lehigh came to Jadwin Gym, last season’s game was very much on the minds of the Princeton players.

“It definitely did,” said Tiger sophomore forward Kareem Maddox, when asked if the loss gave Princeton some extra motivation. “I think we got kind of run out of the gym up there.”

Playing with a chip on their shoulders, the Princeton players turned the tables on the Mountain Hawks.

Blending intensity with execution, the Tigers built a 32-28 halftime lead.

Then when Lehigh made a late run to narrow the Princeton lead to 53-49, the Tigers closed the door smartly.

Hitting their free throws and coming up with some key rebounds, the Tigers pulled away to a sweet 73-64 win, sending them into their 18-day exam break on a high.

Maddox was happy to see Princeton restore order in the series with the Mountain Hawks where the Tigers have gone undefeated at Jadwin Gym and hadn’t fallen since 1930 before last year’s setback.

“There are a couple of stats about us against Lehigh in the past years,” said the 6’8, 225-pound Maddox, a native of Oak Park, Calif.

“It was really nice to come out and represent Princeton as Princeton relates to Lehigh. It is really big.”

Even bigger, the victory helped steel the Tigers for Ivy League play which will start for Princeton when it plays at Dartmouth on January 30.

“I think this is a really big win in terms of preparing ourselves for the league,” said Maddox, reflecting on the triumph which improved Princeton to 4-8 and gave it a two-game winning streak on the heels of its 65-55 win over UNC-Greensboro on January 3.

“We have a big break now. It’s good to have this feeling and know we can beat teams with a really good record. We know that we can beat anyone going into league play. It was pretty big for us.”

Maddox had a pretty big moment when he blocked Lehigh star Zahir Carrington on an attempted dunk with 8:40 left in the second half, prompting a roar of approval from the Jadwin faithful.

“I guess anything I can do to spark a run or get a stop is something I would like to do,” said Maddox, who ended the game with eight points, three rebounds, two assists, and two blocked shots. “He stuck it on me and you don’t want that to happen in Jadwin.”

Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson was happy to see his team stick it to Lehigh in the wake of last January’s debacle.

“I talked to these guys about last year and I think they had a feel as to how I felt about last year’s game,” said Johnson.

“They knew I wasn’t happy with the way that went and so that may have factored into our preparation for this game. I am glad that we were able to win.”

It was an ideal way for Princeton to go into its exam break. “It is great; we don’t have to be miserable for two weeks,” said Johnson, whose team will return to action when it hosts Division II Concordia (N.Y.) on January 25 as a tune-up for league play.

“These guys can focus on their academics which is important and not feel the burden that we can’t turn the corner. It was a tremendous win for us in the sense of just getting confidence and understanding that yes we can win games. Our offense is good; we have talent in this locker room.”

One factor that helped Princeton in the wins was an increased focus on getting to the foul line.

“I think our guys are a bit more attentive to driving the ball and getting some offensive rebounds that may draw some fouls,” said Johnson, whose team went 17-of-23 from the charity stripe in the win over UNC-Greensboro and then 20-of-28 in the Lehigh victory.

“Clearly if you are going to the line 28 times, it certainly makes things easier.”

Johnson knows things won’t get easier when the Tigers get into Ivy play. “When the league comes, it is almost like all bets are off because everybody knows you so well,” said Johnson.

“You have to be that much better, that is going to be a real challenge for us. But let’s not worry about that now, let’s be happy that we beat a good team tonight.”

As Princeton girds for the league battles ahead, Johnson is happy with the effort he is getting on the defensive end.

“I think if you look at us at this point compared to last year, clearly I think we are defending better just across the board,” asserted Johnson, whose team entered the Lehigh game giving up 59.6 points a game.

“We are more attentive. Physically we have some different guys out there. Kareem didn’t play a lot of minutes last year, he can impact the game on the defensive end.”

Junior point guard Marcus Schroeder has been making a big impact for Princeton since he was installed into the starting lineup three games ago.

“Nothing short of tremendous,” said Johnson, assessing the contribution of Schroeder who had 10 points eight rebounds, and four assists in the win over Lehigh.

“He’s settling us in; he’s aggressive on the offensive end. He is helping us out on defense. That is two games and we have another one at the end of the month. He knows that if he is not tremendous, somebody else in our locker room is going to play. I hope that it continues.”

Maddox, for his part, is confident that the Tigers can continue to build on the positives they displayed in the wins over UNC-Greensboro and Lehigh.

“I think we have had some trouble closing games in the past, especially this year,” said Maddox, who leads Princeton in assists with 23 and is averaging 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds a game.

“I think we have closed these last couple of games before the league, just to know that is huge.”

And when Princeton looks back on this season, it may point to the Lehigh game as a transforming moment.

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