After struggling offensively all season long, junior center Connolly used the game against Division III TCNJ as a launching pad to gain some confidence in his scoring touch.
The 6’11, 255-pound native of Brentwood, Tenn. poured in a career-high 16 points in 17 minutes off the bench as the Tigers posted a 79-68 win over their local foes.
“It is nice to see the ball go through the basket; that was something that was lacking for most of the first part of the year,” said Connolly, who had been averaging 2.9 points a game this year with a season-best of just six.
“I would say the past few days in practice have been more so or just as much. I have been working a lot on it.”
Connolly is hoping that his performance will be a harbinger of things to come over the rest of the winter.
“As long as it keeps going in that direction for myself, it will be fine,” said Connolly, who added a game-high nine rebounds to go with his scoring output as the Tigers improved to 9-7 before a crowd of 2,246 at Jadwin Gym.
“It felt nice to have a breakthrough; I have just got to keep it going in the Ivy League season.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson will be looking for his team to play better defense when it starts the defense of its Ivy crown with games at Cornell (5-9) on January 13 and at Columbia (11-5) on January 14.
“Tonight, I thought we played a little like a team that was feeling good about itself,” said Henderson, whose team had trouble stopping former Princeton High star Skye Ettin as he led the Lions with 15 points, drawing cheers from his many fans on hand.
“Our defense has actually been pretty good in practice. We have identified and earmarked our defense as the thing that is going to help us win games. They had 35 points at the half which I think is way too many.”
The matchup with the D-III TCNJ afforded Henderson the opportunity to get a good look at his bench players.
“We wanted to play everybody if we could; I think everybody got a chance to play,” said Henderson.
“If anything, it identified some of the things we can get better at, that is what we are about. We come to work, that is what we do.”
In Henderson’s view, reserve guard Ben Hazel gave the Tigers some good work.
“I liked that we were able to get Ben Hazel some time today,” added Henderson of the sophomore who chipped in four rebounds, two assists, and two blocked shots in 15 minutes of action. “I thought he brought energy and talk. It was something we needed and he brought it.”
With the Tigers heading to New York this weekend to resume a road swing that will ultimately see them play 12 of 13 games away from Jadwin, Henderson is looking for his players to bring physical and mental energy.
“It has been hard but I think if you have a team like this, you can get through it,” said Henderson, reflecting on Princeton’s travels.
“You really need great leadership, not just from the staff but from the seniors because they know what it takes to win games on the road in the league. I like to look at it this way; we are certainly not looking ahead but if we can start off the right way, we finish up nicely at home.”
Connolly has the sense that the Tigers have been steeled by their time away from home.
“Going into those games, we are going to know what it is like to be on the road a lot,” said Connolly.
“It should be nothing new for us. We have had some success on the road in these past few games. We know what we need to do in order to get the wins.”