Penn-Princeton is one of the most storied rivalries in men’s college basketball but the Tigers have taken the drama out of the series in recent years.
Coming into last Saturday’s Ivy League opener against the Quakers, the Tigers had won six of the last seven meetings between the ancient rivals.
With a Jadwin Gym throng of 3,577 on hand, Princeton wasted little time taking the mystery out of the latest installment of the matchup, jumping out to an 11-4 lead and building a 31-22 advantage by halftime. The Tigers started the second half with an 11-0 run and never looked back on the way to a 65-53 win, improving to 7-7 overall and 1-0 in Ivy play.
Princeton senior star Ian Hummer said the Tigers’ upper hand in the series can be attributed, in large part, to intense preparation.
“I think that it just boils down to a good scout,” said Hummer, who tallied 13 points with six rebounds and five assists on the evening.
“We take a few days to go over the offense and how we are going to guard. I think any little trick that they throw at us, we are ready for it. We have got to give it up for our coaches and for our scout team just giving us a good look every day. It was tough guarding the offense at practice and it was even tougher with the way they move and the players we had to guard.”
For Hummer, helping the Tigers go 4-0 against the Quakers at Jadwin Gym over his career is something to savor.
“Just knowing how hard the Ivy League is every year and how well each team knows each one, I would say so,” said Hummer, when asked to reflect on Princeton’s recent home court dominance in the series.
“I think Penn is very well-coached; they have great players every year. [Zack] Rosen was a handful over the last couple of years. [Miles] Cartwright is a handful himself. I think it is just that they are a very good team every year. I think coming home gives us a spark and we are able to play pretty well against them every year.”
The Tigers got a big spark last Saturday from junior guard T.J. Bray, who poured in a career-high 23 points, including 6-of-11 shooting from three-point range.
“It was just one of those day where shots were falling down,” said Bray, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance.
“They were coming in the flow of the offense which was big. Ian had a couple of nice passes to me and I was able to step in and shoot.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson enjoyed Bray’s big offensive effort.
“I thought he was just terrific tonight,” said Henderson in assessing Bray’s career night.
“Making shots is so important for the success of any good team. T.J. didn’t play all summer; he wasn’t available in the fall [due to a knee injury]. I think you are seeing a little bit more of what he is like now. He is having an opportunity to be on that leg playing competitively. Buffalo [the season opener] was the first time he suited up for us. He just seemed to be in on a lot of big plays. He is the brains of the operation now and often the brawn.”
The Tigers benefitted from the way they operated at the beginning of each half. “For us, it was so important to get off to a good start,” said Henderson.
“I was happy with that, especially the first half. I thought they were sharing the ball nicely because Penn was changing a lot of things defensively and I thought we adjusted nicely.”
One thing that hasn’t changed this season is Princeton’s proficiency from three-point range.
“I think with Mack [Darrow], T.J., Ian was 1 for 1, and Will [Barrett] has been shooting the ball so nicely; they are skilled guys,” said Henderson, reflecting on a game which saw Princeton going 11-of-22 on its three-point attempts.
“I don’t put any limitations on these guys. I think, given the time and score, if they feel confident, I want them to shoot it.”
With Princeton winning four of its last five games before going on exam break, Henderson has gained confidence in his starting lineup with includes freshman Hans Brase and sophomore Denton Koon in addition to Hummer, Bray, and Barrett.
“I think we are settled in, this is what we are going to be doing,” said Henderson, whose team is next in action when it hosts The College of New Jersey on January 27.
Hummer, for his part, did something a little different on Saturday, going with a modified Mohawk hair style.
“I was growing my hair out and I hadn’t gotten a haircut in a while,” said a grinning Hummer.
“Before I shave it all off I was thinking let’s try something new. I am getting mixed reviews. I had one guy telling me off TV that I looked like an idiot. Daniel Edwards [Tiger teammate] said he loved it so I am going to keep it for a little while.”
Princeton, though, is earning rave reviews from its supporters for its recent run of success against Penn.