Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 11
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
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MOVING FORWARD: Princeton University men’s basketball junior guard Marcus Schroeder heads up the court in a game this winter. Last week, Schroeder contributed six points, five assists, and four rebounds, to help Princeton edge Penn 59-56 in its season finale. The Tigers ended the season at 13-14 overall and 8-6 in Ivy League play, good for a tie with Yale for second in the league standings behind champion Cornell. The record represented marked improvement for Princeton which went 6-23 overall and 3-11 in Ivy play in the 2007-08 season.

While Tiger Men’s Hoops Fell Short of Title, Season-Ending Win at Penn Reflects Progress

Bill Alden

The Ivy League championship wasn’t up for grabs when the Princeton University men’s basketball team travelled to Penn last week for the season finale but there was still a lot of pride on the line.

Coming off a tough weekend which saw it lose to Columbia and Cornell in getting eliminated from Ivy title contention, Princeton was determined to end things on a high note in the clash with its archrival.

“Knowing that Penn could beat us and already had, helped the guys focus,” said Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson.

“It is easy for myself and Brian (assistant coach Brian Earl) and Scott (assistant coach Scott Greenman) to talk about the rivalry and how it doesn’t matter what the records are, whether the game is at the Palestra or Jadwin or whether it is on TV or not.”

True to form, the contest turned into bruising battle befitting the intensity of the rivalry. The game was tied six times and there were 11 lead changes.

In the end, the Tigers outscored the Quakers 4-0 over the last 57 seconds of the game to pull out a 59-56 victory before a crowd of 4,087 at the Palestra.

“I would say it was very intense,” said Johnson, reflecting on the atmosphere courtside.

“It was yet another physical game for us. There were a number of lead changes in the first and second halves. They looked to pull away and we came back and then we looked to pull away and they came back. I do think the rivalry is part of the history of college basketball and I think both teams feel it will remain that way.”

In Johnson’s view, the Tigers’ growing confidence helped them prevail against the Quakers.

“In our minds we benefitted from a belief that we could win,” said Johnson, who got a game-high 17 points from Dan Mavraides in the victory with Pawel Buczak chipping in 15 points and Douglas Davis adding 10.

“It helped us in the second half of the season. If we apply ourselves, we can win. We also showed we could win if we weren’t perfect. If we make a turnover or a bad foul, we can plug through that.”

The victory left the Tigers with a final overall record of 13-14 and an Ivy mark of 8-6, good for a tie with Yale for second in the league standings behind champion Cornell.

Those final totals represent major progress for a Tiger program that went 6-23 overall and 3-11 in Ivy play a year ago in Johnson’s debut season at the helm.

While heartened by the strides made this winter, Johnson was disappointed by the bottom line, particularly considering the fact that Princeton could have forced an Ivy title playoff game with Cornell if it had topped Columbia and the Big Red that last weekend.

“We are on a single track to win a championship and we didn’t do that,” said Johnson. “That is the standard. We made progress and we can’t beat ourselves up but we came up short. For what we are trying to do, it is bittersweet.”

It was sweet for Johnson to see several Tiger players develop into key performers. “We had guys get better on an individual basis,” asserted Johnson.

“One of the huge misconceptions about the program is that we hide behind the offense and like to pass the ball 100 times and wear you out. It is quite the opposite, we do a lot of skills work with the guys to help them get better.”

Two of the players who made the most progress were sophomore guard Mavraides and junior center Buczak.

Mavraides averaged 10.3 points a game this season after scoring a total of 11 points last season. Buczak made All-Ivy honorable mention as he averaged 7.7 point and 4.1 rebounds a game after getting just 25 points and 18 rebounds over his first two seasons.

“Dan was saddled with foul trouble in the beginning, once he relaxed and settled in, he became a big piece for us,” said Johnson. “He is a vocal guy, he made some big shots for us. Pawel had almost no playing time in the last two years to rely on for confidence and experience. From game to game, he was able to improve and become a reliable player for us.”

Junior guard Marcus Schroeder regained his starting role and emerged as a reliable leader on the court for the Tigers.

“Marcus has had an interesting Princeton career,” said Johnson, noting that Schroeder played just about every minute of every game his freshman season.

“We asked him to do different things; he has improved and embraced what the staff has asked him to do. If you are a hard worker, you are going to get better. He is going to miss shots, he is going to make turnovers. It is the way you respond to mistakes and he has responded in a way to this point that shows he has an understanding of what we are doing. That shows he is going to be an important player for us.”

Freshman standout guard Douglas Davis figures to be an important player for the Tigers over the next three years. The former Hun School star averaged a team-high 12.3 points a game in earning All-Ivy honorable mention.

“What I was most pleased with is that he played the same regardless of the competition, whether it was Rutgers in the Big East or a big conference team on the road or the first game after finals,” said Johnson of Davis, whose 333 total points were the third most for a Princeton freshman behind Spencer Gloger’s 336 in 1999-2000 and Chris Young’s 387 the season before.

“He was pretty steady for a freshman. He is pretty crafty on the offensive end, being able to showcase what he can do shows that we are not trying to hide behind our offense. That bodes well for Doug and other kids we would like to get in the program.”

The team’s excellent play at home down the stretch is something to build on for the future.

“I think we were able to be pretty sound offensively and defensively at home,” added Johnson whose team posted an 8-6 mark at Jadwin Gym, winning eight of its last 10 home contests.

“We just want to have the same type of effort home and away; the consistency of play was not the same this year at home and away. Of course, we didn’t know who we were in the first 10 or 12 games. We had guys who hadn’t played much and we had to figure out their roles.”

Johnson is hoping that the memory of the last road weekend will help fuel the program’s motivation going forward.

“That last Friday and Saturday of the season was very disappointing,” said Johnson. “If we hold on to that feeling, it should motivate all of us — players, coaches, and managers to work harder so we won’t feel like that again.”

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