(Photo by Bill Allen/NJSportAction)
Princeton men's basketball head coach Joe Scott talks a lot about his desire to see his club develop some staples that will set it apart from the competition.
Three games into the season, however, the chief staple displayed by the Tigers has been a maddening inconsistency. In its season opener, Princeton was pushed around in a 54-41 loss to visiting Drexel. Days later, Princeton pushed back as it manhandled Lehigh 64-54.
Last Sunday, with a crowd of 2,811 at Jadwin Gym hoping to see Tigers continue their progress with a win over Lafayette, Princeton disappointed the home faithful as it came out flat.
Shooting an anemic 27.8 percent from the floor, the Tigers trudged into the locker room trailing 23-13 at the half. While Princeton showed signs of life late in the second half as it cut the Lafayette margin to eight, the Leopards pulled away for a 57-46 win.
Tiger sophomore forward Noah Savage, who scored all 17 of his points in the Tigers' second-half comeback attempt, acknowledged that Princeton was out of sync from the opening tip-off.
"It seemed like we weren't mentally ready to run our stuff," lamented Savage, a Princeton resident and former star at the Hun School.
"We never knew what offense we were in, people weren't attentive to where the ball was. I felt our defense was just as bad. They scored their first four points on tip-ins, we just let guys walk into the lane. You do that and you know you're not ready to play."
The Tigers' inconsistency so far is puzzling to Savage. "It's tough to find out who we are as a team and what everybody's role is," said the 6'5 Savage, who is Princeton's top scorer at 16.7 points a game.
"Right now our response to adversity is to cave in, give in, and come out flat. We had one good game where we came out and played like we were a good team. Beating Lehigh doesn't make you world champs."
Savage was particularly frustrated by the way the team has struggled at home. "We're a young team," noted Savage. "I don't think a lot of people understand the history and what Jadwin means; that's obvious when you come out they way we did. You don't realize the opportunity we have and the history we have to uphold."
Scott, for his part, credited Lafayette with seizing the opportunity as it won its second straight game in Jadwin.
"Obviously it was a key game for them; I could tell that from their emotional standpoint," said Scott, who got 14 points from senior guard Scott Greenman. "It didn't appear like it was a big game for us. They came out on their toes and we were on our heels. We have to develop the understanding that every time we go out on that court and lace them up, nothing is easy."
Princeton is going to work hard to achieve that hard-nosed mentality. "The sense of urgency that we had after our first game was missing today," conceded Scott, whose team was outrebounded 32-22 by the inspired Leopards.
"That's something you have to work on developing. We've shown we can play well after not playing well. Right now we didn't have the corresponding ability to play well after having played well. You work on that in practices and develop habits."
Scott was less than impressed by the late second-half rally that made Leopards sweat things with about four minutes left in the contest.
"The game started at 3:00, that's when more urgency is required not when you get down by 19," said Scott with a frown. "If we had that sense of urgency we displayed at that point of time, we might not have gotten in that hole."
As Princeton looks forward to playing at Colgate this Saturday, Scott is confident that his team will be ready to play hard for 40 minutes.
"We need to be ready to meet the challenges thrown at you every night," added Scott. "We have four or five days to work in practice on the things that are going to show up on this tape. I think we have it in us. I like our chances of responding. I like the makeup of this team and what the guys are trying to do together."
Savage, for one, thinks the team can accomplish big things if it sticks together and plays hard.
"We're definitely going to be a factor in the Ivy League," maintained Savage with his voice rising.
"Every single game it comes down to how we come out and how we play. If it's like the way we played against Lehigh, we have the chance to win every game. If it's like tonight, we have a chance to lose every game. I feel like when we're running our stuff well, the defense is a step behind."
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