After the Princeton University men’s basketball team fell to Fordham in mid-December, the Tiger players weren’t feeling much holiday cheer.
“I really feel like after the Fordham loss, there was a restlessness,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, reflecting on the 63-60 setback on December 15 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“The team was very surly on Monday. It helped us, it focused us to the point where what are you going to do about that.”
As Princeton hosted Bucknell on December 22 in its last action before Christmas, the Tigers showed very good focus as they pulled away to a 79-67 win over the Bisons before a crowd of 3,090 at Jadwin Gym.
Henderson managed a smile as he reflected on a game which saw five Tigers players hit double figures led by Ian Hummer and Denton Koon, who tallied 17 apiece, followed by Hans Brase with 14, T.J. Bray with 11, and Mack Darrow chipping in 10.
“I think the balance in scoring gives us something to be very happy about,” said Henderson, whose team shot 51 percent from the field (26-of-51), including 11-of-25 from 3-point range as it improved to 5-6.
“Teams are going to play us a certain way and I think we are getting comfortable with how that it is. It is a unique bunch, we are talented inside. Ian is a very good passer out of the post. Denton is becoming a very good passer out of the post. I think with Hans now, we have some more threats inside. So they really found each other and I think when the 3s started falling for us, it opened everything up and there was some confidence there, which was really good to see.”
It was good to see Princeton top a Bucknell team that brought a sparkling 11-1 record into the contest.
“This is a really good Bucknell team and we knew coming in that with one day of preparation how important it was going to be for us to establish some things,” said Henderson.
“Defensively I thought we did a pretty good job on [Mike] Muscala and I look down and he has 17 [points] and 11 [rebounds]. He is just a really difficult player to match up with and [Joe] Willman too. Those guys both really hurt us. I thought we withstood a pretty good punch by them and then delivered some of our own too.”
In delivering knockout blows to the Bisons, the Tigers finished strongly for a second game in a row, having pulled away from Rider in a 62-45 win two days earlier.
“We earned the tag of not being able to finish games unfortunately,” said Henderson.
“I just think we are moving in the right direction. I don’t think there has been any change made. We shot 85 percent from the free throw line. We made our free throws down the stretch. That is a good team, they know how to come back and how to be in there.”
Senior star Hummer saw the performance as a step in the right direction for the Tigers as they look to develop a killer instinct.
“I would say to beat a good Bucknell team, they are fantastic,” said Hummer.
“As coach said, they are probably going to win their league. They are favored I think. Coming off a string of losses we had, we didn’t get blown out in any of those games, we were right there. I think we led every first half and we were with them until the end when we kind of faltered a little bit. I think this was the first game where we put a full 40 minutes together.”
In Hummer’s view, Princeton’s depth made the difference in the win. “We got a good contribution from everybody; I think it is just the balance we have, scoring and rebounding,” said Hummer, who chipped in eight rebounds, two assists, and two blocked shots to go with his 17 points.
“I think guys can come off the bench. If we need defense, we have guys for that. If we need shooting, we have guys for that. We have a good, well-rounded team and I think it really showed tonight.”
Freshman Brase has shown a lot in his two starts, helping to take the load off Hummer.
“I think it his ability to open up the floor a little bit,” said Hummer, reflecting on Brase’s impact.
“He knocked down a few shots today; he hit a few three pointers. His ability to cut to the rim really makes him a pretty dynamic player. Having Denton and Hans run around and having me able to pass the ball opens up a lot. It takes a little pressure off of me. Them being able to make a shot for themselves is really key to what happened tonight. I think they are playing very well.”
Henderson, for his part, is looking for the Tigers to keep playing well as they hit the road for games at Akron on December 30 and at Elon on January 5.
“I think we have been playing hard, I think they are focused,” said Henderson.
“They knew that this was a very difficult task. I was pleased with their confidence in what the plan was.”