Last week, the Princeton University men’s basketball team started the postseason by giving up 47 points in the first half at Evansville as the programs met in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
The Tigers, though, scored 48 and kept rolling over the last 20 minutes of the contest, pulling away in the waning moments to earn a 95-86 triumph.
“We scored 95 points in a game on the road and we didn’t defend,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, in reflecting on the win that improved the Tigers to 20-11.
“What I liked most about those points is that a lot of them came off assists. We move the ball nicely and when we do that, you are really hard to guard.”
As Henderson looked forward to his team’s CBI second round matchup at the University of Pittsburgh last Monday, he knew his team had to tighten things up on the defensive end.
“In their wins, they score in the 70; in their losses, they are in the 50s,” said Henderson.
“You really have to defend if you are going to be successful. We are going to work on a lot of different looks because I think they have some talented scorers on the floor.”
Playing at the Peterson Events Center where it rarely loses, Pitt gave Princeton a heavy dose of its offensive talent, jumping out to a 49-25 lead at half.
“We knew when they scored points, they were dangerous,” said Henderson. “A team that makes just over five 3-pointers a game makes nine; we just couldn’t handle that. We can’t give up 49 points in a half and win many games except if you are in Evansville, Indiana.”
While the Tigers put up a fight in the second half, cutting the Pitt lead to 66-55 with 5:58 remaining in regulation, they ran out of gas on the way to a season-ending 82-61 loss.
“I thought we played well in spurts but they were the better,” said Henderson. “They are used to winning games here, we knew that.”
In the wake of the defeat, Henderson tipped his hat to his three seniors, Douglas Davis, Patrick Saunders, and John Comfort.
“We have been playing really good basketball and I am really proud of our seniors,” said Henderson.
“We had a rough start to the season at 1-5 and for us to finish the season winning 9 of 10 down the stretch, that was really important for us especially with what is going into next year. It was an important senior class that chose Princeton when we were down. Doug, Pat, and John chose Princeton and did something to get you back to where you need to be.”
Henderson was particularly proud of Davis, who scored a game-high 20 points in the finale to give him 1,550 in his career. As a result, the former Hun School star passed Kit Mueller ’91 at 1,546 to stand second in scoring at Princeton only to the 2,503 points put up in three seasons by Bill Bradley ’65.
“Doug is now the second all-time leading scorer in the school behind Bill Bradley,” noted Henderson. “He passed a very good player in Princeton basketball history in Kit Mueller.”
Davis, for his part, spread the credit as he reflected on his accomplishment.
“I am definitely proud of it,” said Davis. “It is an honor to be mentioned with Kit Mueller and Bill Bradley but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates so. I am thankful for them.”
Speaking for those teammates, junior star Ian Hummer lauded Davis and his fellow seniors for their contributions.
“Doug is a great player, he is the second all time scorer in Princeton history, that says it all,” said Hummer, who ended the night with 14 points after being held scoreless in the first half.
“He is also a great person off the court. It is a group of seniors on our team that we all love. Patrick and John are great teammates. They didn’t play as much as Doug has but they are still a huge part of this team.”
In view of junior Mack Darrow, playing in the CBI could prove to be a huge boost for the Tigers going forward.
“I think this tournament has been good in terms of being a springboard for next season,” added Darrow, who went 3-of-3 from the three-point range in the loss to Pitt to end up with nine points.
“I know that VCU won this and the next year was in the Final 4. Obviously, you can only hope to replicate something like that. But after our freshman year, we were in the CBI and I think we were close as a group and we won the league the next year. If that could happen again next year, that would be great. I think it definitely has a chance to happen, given the chance to play extra basketball together, it will really help us.”
Henderson, for his part, believes that the experience of playing Pitt and winning down the stretch to earn that opportunity can only help the Tigers.
“That is a good Pitt team,” said Henderson. “We knew the challenges of coming in here and playing well and trying to beat this team. I am just overall happy about the season.”