For the Princeton University men’s basketball team, its non-conference schedule is designed to be a minefield, providing an array of challenges to sharpen the squad for Ivy League play.
Last week, the Tigers saw things blow up on them twice at Jadwin Gym as they worked out some early-season kinks.
On November 13, Princeton blew an 18-point lead on the way to a 67-66 loss to Northeastern. Three days later against Rutgers, the Tigers jumped out to an early 12-3 advantage only to end up falling 58-52 to their local rivals.
“Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel for us,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, invoking the Batman catchphrase in expressing his disappointment after the Rutgers game.
“Once again, I feel like Rutgers deserves a lot of credit and we have to be able to execute a little better on the offensive end. I thought our defense was improved from the last time we went out. We made some mistakes that I think are correctable.”
Trailing Rutgers 33-27 as the second half started, Princeton displayed some better intensity as it went on a 9-4 run to narrow the gap to 37-36. The Tigers got it to 43-40 and 50-46 but could never get over the hump against the Scarlet Knights.
“We just couldn’t buy a hoop; we got it to 50-46 with four minutes left and we missed a couple of easy shots that would have really helped,” said Henderson whose team shot 7-of-22 from the field in the second half as it fell to 1-2.
“Our backcourt is struggling a little bit. T.J. [Bray] was a 40 percent shooter from 3 last year and I have confidence that we’ll turn this thing around.”
Henderson was dismayed by how his team struggled on the boards, getting outrebounded 42-24 by an aggressive Rutgers squad.
“It is concerning, especially since I think that is what we want to hang our hat on this year,” said Henderson.
“They had six offensive in the first half; it was just like patty cake up against the glass. I thought that was a major point and I thought transition hoops in the first half made a difference.”
Tiger senior star Ian Hummer acknowledged that the Tigers were outfought on the glass.
“It was an overall team effort by Rutgers, they really destroyed us, they really pushed us around,” said Hummer, who ended the evening with 10 points and four rebounds.
“I think we have to push back. We can definitely hit the boards as well, if not better, than they can. It just didn’t happen today and we just have to learn from it. We have got to go hard in practice and we’ll board up next time.”
Like Henderson, Hummer was disappointed by Princeton’s failure to execute when it was on the verge of regaining the lead.
“Rutgers is a very good team, but to be perfectly honest we didn’t play very well when we were only two or three points down,” said Hummer, who had played a major role in helping Princeton win the last two games in the series.
“To know that was the case and not being able to cross that threshold was kind of frustrating. Every time we cut it to two or three, they ended up getting a board and putting it back. It definitely takes the wind out of your sails. It just builds character. We are going to be in tough games throughout the season. I think we can really learn from this and we can play a lot better.”
Henderson, for his part, knows the Tigers will have to be tougher as they play at No. 6 Syracuse on November 21 and at Lafayette on November 24.
“We have hit some droughts but I think that we need to have the ability to adjust in those different changing defensive segments,” said Henderson.
“That’s why we like playing these games. They really help us and it shows us what we need to work on.”