(Photo by Bill Allen/NJSportAction)
Hitting the court at Jadwin Gym last Saturday night, the Princeton men's basketball team was looking to make it two straight wins in Ivy League play while Cornell was merely aiming to regain some self-respect.
A night earlier, Princeton battled until nearly midnight in order to pull out a 68-64 overtime win over Columbia in a game that started at 9:00 p.m. to accommodate the ESPNU network.
Cornell, on the other hand, knew its fate much earlier in the evening as it got drilled 84-44 at Penn.
It didn't take long Saturday night for an obviously inspired Big Red squad to show that the urge for self-redemption gave it an edge as a tired Tigers team struggled to regain its legs.
Breaking down a sluggish Tiger defense, the Big Red built a 31-16 halftime lead, shooting 56.5 percent from the floor as it held Princeton to an anemic 21.7 percent.
By midway through the second half, Cornell built the lead to 47-28 before Princeton found a rhythm. With Harrison Schaen contributing six points, the Tigers went on a 21-8 run to narrow the margin to six points.
Princeton, though, could get no closer as it fell 57-49 before a crowd of 2,550 to drop to 3-11 overall and 1-1 in Ivy play.
Afterward, Princeton head coach Joe Scott acknowledged that events of Friday impacted Saturday's result.
"It was a tale of two different Friday nights leading to a different Saturday night," said Scott, whose team hasn't yet won two straight games this season.
"They have some older guys and they were probably very upset with themselves about how they played last night. Our game went overtime. It's not the minutes played, it's the amount of tension exerted when you play. Our game was tension-filled."
But with the Ivy race based on surviving six Friday-Saturday back-to-back battles, Scott knows that Friday's exertion cannot be an excuse.
"None of that matters when you go out and play," said Scott, who got 10 points from Noah Savage in the loss to the Big Red together with nine apiece from Schaen and Kyle Koncz. "You have to be good at executing; you have to show the understanding when you're out there."
The Tigers didn't execute very well offensively Saturday, ending up shooting 30.6 from the field, including hitting just 6-of-24 three-point attempts.
"We didn't play as well tonight as we did last night," said Scott, whose team came into the evening averaging 45.5 points a game.
"We struggled to score; we've struggled to score all year. You struggle to score and you put more and more pressure on your defense. We didn't quit which is a good thing for us but we have to do better than not quitting."
Despite the gloom of failing to build on its win over Columbia, Scott saw reason for optimism. "I'm getting the sense all the time that there is more and more understanding of what we're trying to do," said Scott. "We just need to put that understanding into practice for 40 minutes. That's the next step; we're doing that better."
In Scott's view, the progress of sophomore Koncz is emblematic of the progress he is seeing.
"The kid is coming around," said Scott of Koncz, who scored a team-high 15 points in the win over Columbia. "He is becoming a player. He holds himself to a high standard from a coaching standpoint."
With the Tigers on a 15-day exam break until it plays at Davidson on January 29, Scott is hoping that his team will collectively hold itself to a high standard.
"Getting a better understanding of our execution has to be important to us," said Scott, who plans to run abbreviated practices during the break to keep his players sharp as they focus on their academic responsibilities. "We have to keep getting better at that."
Sophomore forward Schaen, for his part, believes the team is developing that kind of understanding.
"You've got to remember that a lot of guys on this time haven't played a lot," said the 6'8, 205-pound Schaen. "As long as we keep doing what we have to do and help each other out, the confidence will be there."
And with 12 Ivy games to go, the Tigers still have time to become a factor in the league race.
"We have to just keep going, the league season is young," added Schaen. "We have a lot of interchangeable players. We've had a lot of different starting lineups and I feel that everybody has been competent when they've been in there. One of the main things we need to focus on is to just play every possession."
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