Despite having not played since January 14, the Princeton University men’s basketball team showed little rust offensively as it faced Penn last Monday night in Philadelphia.
The Tigers hit 13-of-19 shots in the first half in their annual trip to the storied Palestra.
But the Princeton’s normally stingy defense seemed out of synch as Penn made 14-of-22 shots, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range, to build a 40-32 halftime lead.
“I thought we played pretty well offensively,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, reflecting on the first 20 minutes of the 225th meeting between the archrivals. “We shot over 50 percent and had less than 10 turnovers.”
In the second half, the Tigers tried to claw back into the contest, narrowing the gap to five points several times. In the end, though, the Tigers couldn’t stop the Quakers as Penn pulled away to an 82-67 win before a crowd of 6,835, led by a brilliant 28-point performance from senior guard Zack Rosen.
Henderson acknowledged that Rosen was the difference in the game. “I really felt like Penn dictated things on offense,” said Henderson, whose team fell to 10-9 overall and 1-2 in the Ivy League while Penn improved to 11-9 overall and 3-0 Ivy.
“We really had no response or answer for Zack Rosen. He was terrific tonight, throughout the game for 40 minutes. His understanding of tempo, it’s special, not just for this game, but as an Ivy League basketball player. He’s a good one. We knew that going in. That’s not to take anything away from the other guys.”
The Tigers didn’t exactly stifle Penn’s other guys as three other Quakers hit double figures.
“They were quicker than us to everything in the first half, and the second,” said Henderson, whose team was outrebounded 33-19 in the contest.
“Forty in the first, and 42 in the second. And that was a real 82. We just consistently couldn’t stop them. It’s supposed to be what we’re hanging our hat on, but maybe we need to hang our hat on something else.”
A major bright spot for Princeton was junior center Brendan Connolly, who was unstoppable at times as he tallied 15 points in 30 minutes off the bench.
“I was very pleased with Brendan Connolly tonight,” asserted Henderson, who also got 21 points from Ian Hummer and 14 from Douglas Davis.
“Brendan has been playing pretty well in practice. I think you saw tonight a little bit of what we see in practice every day. He’s been working hard, and that’s what happens when you work hard.”
Connolly, for his part, saw his effort as the fruits of that labor. “I was just trying to replicate what I’ve been doing at practice lately, which is being more aggressive,” said the 6’11, 255-pound Connolly, who thundered home several dunks as he went 7-of-8 from the field.
“All the coaches have been working with me, and my teammates have helped me out and put me in good spots for most of my baskets today. I was just trying to build off that. It wasn’t necessarily this game. I’d like to do it every game.
Senior star Davis acknowledged that defending Ivy champion Princeton put itself in a hole with the defeat to the Quakers as it now trails Harvard (18-2 overall, 4-0 Ivy), Yale (13-5 overall, 3-1 Ivy), and Cornell (7-11 overall, 2-2 Ivy) in addition to Penn in the league standings.
“It’s tough; whenever you play Ivies, if you lose, you’re basically putting yourself at a disadvantage,” said Davis, whose class was trying to become the first group of seniors to win four straight games at the Palestra.
“Every loss counts and there’s no tournament at the end where you can hopefully try to win. It’s tough. We’re 1-2 right now, so we have to win. We have to find a way to win.”
Despite the setback, Davis doesn’t believe that the team’s will to win has been diminished.
“I don’t think our team is shaken at all, but it definitely puts us behind the eight-ball,” maintained Davis. “We have to find a way to get back to where we need to be.”
In Henderson’s view, it is going to take toil and luck for the Tigers to make their way up the league standings.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re going to need some help,” said Henderson, whose team plays at Brown (7-14 overall, 1-3 Ivy) on February 3 and Yale a day later. “We know that.”