Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 13
 
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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FINISHING UP: Princeton University men’s basketball senior guard Marcus Schroeder finishes a drive in Princeton’s 65-51 win over Duquesne in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). Schroeder and the Tigers ended up advancing to the CBI semis where they fell to St. Louis 69-59 last Wednesday.

Tiger Men’s Basketball Falls in CBI Semifinals; but Schroeder, Fellow Seniors Enjoyed the Ride

Bill Alden

With 9:01 remaining on the second half of its College Basketball Invitational (CBI) quarterfinal contest at IUPUI last week, the Princeton University men’s basketball team found itself trailing by 10 points.

Having already won its CBI opener over Duquesne and having achieved the 20-win plateau, Princeton could have rested on its laurels and lost the will to fight before a hostile crowd.

Instead, showing the tenacity that has become its hallmark this winter, the Tigers outscored the Jaguars 19-9 to force overtime with the teams knotted at 63-63 at the end of regulation.

After a 5-5 stalemate in the first overtime, Princeton held IUPI scoreless in the second extra session to pull out a dramatic 74-68 double-overtime victory.

In reflecting on the win, Princeton senior point guard and co-captain Marcus Schroeder said the team’s rally exemplified the special chemistry it has developed this winter.

“I think we have prided ourselves on defense and during that game we let that get away from us,” said Schroeder.

“Once we clamped down, that really helped us. We did well with offensive rebounding and we made some big plays. We have definitely come together as a team over the last two months and it showed how much we care about each other and winning.”

The win earned Schroeder and his teammates a four-hour bus ride west to face St. Louis University in the CBI semifinals.

For Schroeder and his teammates, who are used to crisscrossing New York and New England by bus during the Ivy League season, the excursion was a bonus.

“It was like the Ivy League except it was in the middle of the week and we were missing class,” said Schroeder, a 6‘3, 180-pound native of Concord, Calif. “To have four days together on the road as a team was great.”

Things didn’t turn out so great in St. Louis, however, as the Tigers squandered an early 12-7 lead over the Billikens and ended up trailing by 46-29 with 17 minutes remaining in the second half.

True to form, the Tigers mounted a rally, cutting the deficit to 55-49 with 4:36 left in regulation. Princeton, though, could get no closer as it fell 69-59 to end its season with a 22-9 record.

“They were very good and very well coached,” said Schroeder in assessing the Billikens.

“We got off to a nice start; we were shooting well but I don’t think we were playing good defense. I think our defense was not at its best in that game. We got it down to six points; Kareem [Maddox] made some nice plays for us. But they just played well. Basketball is a game of runs and they stopped our run and then they had a little run.”

It was sad for Schroeder and his classmates, co-captain Nick Lake, Zach Finley, and Pawel Buczak, to see their Princeton run come to an end.

“You have four years where you gave everything to the program and to have it end with a loss like that was tough,” said Schroeder, reflecting on the post-game mood.

“We had a goal every year to win the Ivy League and we didn’t do it. We came up short but to play in the postseason this year was great. I am going to miss it a lot.”

For Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson, it was tough to say goodbye to his quartet of seniors.

“There is a lot of emotion there, those are four seniors who carried us a long way; it comes out at that time,” recalled Johnson.

“It is hard to celebrate and cry at the same time. I am very attached to the leadership of these four seniors. I am very cognizant of how much we are going to miss these guys.”

Johnson relished getting extra time on the road with his guys. “When you have a team that has that chemistry, it is good to be on the road,” asserted Johnson. “There are those moments on the plane, in the hotel, at shootaround that pull you together even more.”

In Johnson’s view, it was that chemistry that made the difference for the Tigers in their battle with IUPUI.

“The guys rallied behind each other,” said Johnson reflecting on a game which saw junior star Dan Mavraides score 18 points with freshman Ian Hummer contributing 16 off the bench.

“In overtime, they leaned on each other even harder. I think the chemistry really pulled us through. It was about the culmination of character and competitiveness that we have seen this season.”

The team’s character wasn’t enough against St. Louis and its one-two punch of Willie Reed and Kwamain Mitchell.

“We just never found our defensive rhythm,” said Johnson, who got 16 points and five rebounds from Maddox in the loss with sophomore Douglas Davis chipping in 14 points.

“We got it down to six and on their next possession they get a dunk with two seconds left on the shot clock. If we had stopped them there and with our offensive efficiency had gotten a basket, it could have been different. All night, it seemed like we were just one defensive stop away from going on a run.”

Although Princeton didn’t win the Ivy League title as it finished second to Cornell, Johnson was proud of the team’s run which saw the program win its most games since the 1998-99 season. The accomplishment was even more noteworthy considering that the Tigers went 6-23 in 2007-08, Johnson’s debut season as head coach.

“It was a step forward,” said Johnson, who will be looking to such returning stars as Maddox, Mavraides, Davis, Hummer, and Patrick Saunders to keep the program moving forward next winter.

“It is really hard to continue to improve but that is the expectation and we did. We came up short of our main goal but when you look at the record a few years ago and how many games we won this year and how we had been excluded from the postseason for many years, there are a lot of positives.”

Even going deep in the postseason is grueling, Johnson thought everyone associated with the program enjoyed putting in the extra work.

“There is a short turnaround and a lot of late nights,” said Johnson, who was an assistant coach on Georgetown’s 2007 NCAA Final Four team. “But when you are in the post-season, it is a lot more fun. The guys felt that; they enjoyed the ride. It was good.”

Schroeder certainly enjoyed his Princeton ride. “It was definitely difficult at times but I learned a lot about myself and I wouldn’t change anything,” said Schroeder, who scored 563 points in his Tiger career and finished tied for fourth in program history with 156 career steals and fifth with 295 career assists.

“Zach, Nick, Pawel, and I went through a lot. It took a lot of character to deal with a coaching change and then a six-win season. We did pretty well as juniors and then this year we restored the program and really got it on the right track with a 20-win season and two wins in the postseason. We didn’t want it to end.”

A desire that was nowhere more evident than in their late comeback at IUPUI.

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