In its two Ivy League losses this season, the Princeton University men’s basketball team showed plenty of heart but failed to make enough big plays to avoid defeat.
Falling short against Yale on February 9 in a 69-65 defeat, the Tigers couldn’t get off a shot in the waning seconds when a three-point bucket could have won the contest. A week later at Harvard, Princeton misfired down the stretch, hitting just 31 percent of its second half shots on the way to a 69-57 setback.
Last Friday in a showdown with Ivy frontrunner Harvard, it looked like Princeton was letting another game slip away as it squandered a 46-36 second half lead to find itself trailing 51-48 with 2:44 left in regulation.
But this time, Princeton came up with the clutch plays in crunch time and pulled out a 58-53 win over the Crimson to delight a Jadwin Gym throng of 4,413.
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was proud of how his team came through when it counted against the Crimson.
“At times this season when we have been down, we haven’t been able to find that moment where we can kind of push through something,” said Henderson.
“I thought tonight was just a huge thing for our program. At 51-48 Will Barrett gets fouled and makes both free throws. We get a huge stop and then Ian [Hummer] comes down and gets the tip-in. Not to mention the tip out on the missed free throw and T.J.’s diving play. That was a big moment for us. I am just really happy.”
Henderson was even happier a night later when Princeton topped Dartmouth 68-63 and Harvard fell 75-72 at Penn, leaving the Tigers in first place in the league standings at 16-9 overall, 9-2 Ivy with the Crimson next at 17-9 overall, 9-3 Ivy.
While Princeton’s win over Harvard wasn’t a thing of beauty, Henderson was impressed with his team’s grit.
“The box score doesn’t look that pretty on our end and it didn’t look pretty the first time,” said Henderson.
“I thought the game was won on the free throw line and with our defense. We didn’t give up too many second chance points.”
Senior star Hummer effectively ended Harvard’s chances for a win when he punched back a missed Mack Darrow free throw in the waning seconds that a diving T.J. Bray batted to Denton Koon, who was then fouled.
“I knew I couldn’t get it; [Steve] Mondou-Missi is a handful but the miss was so perfect, it just came off the back iron and popped right back and I tried to just hit it right out. I was afraid I hit to too hard but luckily TJ was right there to make a diving play.”
After Koon drained two free throws to make it 58-53, Hummer turned to the Princeton student section and gleefully pumped his fist.
“I knew it was going to go our way, the way we were shooting the ball on the free throw line,” said Hummer, recalling his impromptu celebration.
“I wasn’t really worried; whoever was going to be on the line was going to make them. The excitement got the best of me and I went in the opposite direction, I had no idea what I was doing. It is what it is, I got caught up in the moment.”
The Tigers realized that Friday was a pivotal moment of the season, having entered the game trailing Harvard by one game in the loss column.
“We know it is a must-win,” said Hummer, who ended the evening with 23 points and 14 rebounds and was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for the seventh time this season and ninth time in his career.
“I think the way we played last weekend, we were pretty confident coming into this game. I thought we didn’t play our best game up at Harvard. I thought the way we were playing, we could really give them a good run. It is always a good game when we play Harvard and it is always a dogfight. I am just so glad that we came out on top.”
Henderson, for his part, is glad to have Hummer on his side. “He was just terrific; I am an alum here too and I think first, I have to say I am so happy for him because he cares about winning,” said Henderson, a 1998 Princeton grad and former Tiger basketball star.
“But as alum it is just fun to watch him play. I am proud that he wears the orange and black. He just does everything for us; 23 and 14, 7-of-7 from the line. He has really worked at those things, especially the free throw shooting. That is huge for us. That is what we want to be, constantly improving and he is a walking example of that.”
Hummer has improved into one of the greatest players in Princeton history, becoming the second leading scorer in Tiger history, passing Kit Mueller (1,546 points) and Douglas Davis (1,550) on the career list with his output on Friday and ending the weekend at 1,577 points.
That milestone, though, wasn’t nearly as important to Hummer as the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of Friday evening.
“It means nothing if I didn’t get the win tonight,” said Hummer, who will be looking for more wins this week as the Tigers wrap up regular season action by playing at Yale on March 8, at Brown on March 9, and at Penn on March 12.
“It is just icing on the cake. First and foremost, I want to be in contention for an Ivy League title and whatever happens, happens. I am just happy it came in a win.”