Over the last two seasons, Yale has been a major thorn in the side for the Princeton University men’s basketball team.
Last year, Yale swept Princeton in the rivals’ two meetings as the Tigers finished second to league champions Harvard by one game.
Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs edged Princeton 66-65 in overtime to hand the Tigers a fifth league loss and extinguish any glimmering hope of contending for a league title.
When the teams met last Friday at Jadwin Gym before a crowd of 2,730, Princeton turned the tables, topping Yale 57-46 to deal a critical blow to its title hopes, dropping the Bulldogs two games behind league-leading Harvard with three games to go.
For Princeton senior star T.J. Bray, getting some payback against Yale was sweet.
“They kind of spoiled our season last year with the sweep and this year, they got us at their place,” said Bray, who scored a team-high 19 points with six rebounds and two assists.
“It feels nice to beat them. It is always a great game; they are very physical. We knew we had to come out and be physical tonight.”
The Tigers came out with intensity on the defensive end, limiting Yale to 29.4 percent shooting from the field (15-of-51) and forcing 16 turnovers and making eight steals.
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson appreciated his team’s work at the defensive end in the win over the Bulldogs.
“The credit goes to these guys; they followed the plan,” said Henderson.
“I thought we did a nice job moving our feet. It is a simple game when you move your feet. Our defense has been good in our last six games so I am pleased with that.”
Another good sign for Princeton was outscoring Yale 19-3 in points off of turnovers.
“We happened to get loose balls and long rebounds,” said Henderson. “Those are the plays that make you win and that we didn’t make up at their place.”
Bray exemplified the Princeton defensive effort as he locked down on Yale star Justin Sears, stifling him in the second half.
“T.J. showed us the way with Sears, 19 in the first half, three in the second and then Hans [Brase] stepped into T.J.’s role,” said
“I thought we were able to control him a little bit, not that you can do that completely.”
Bray has been showing the way offensively as well, averaging 17.9 points a game along with 5.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds.
“The consistency of T.J. has been amazing,” said Henderson of Bray, who had 21 points, 7 rebounds, and six assists a night later to help Princeton defeat Brown 69-64 and ended up being chosen as the Ivy Player of the Week.
“That is a really good thing when you can point to one person and say every single night you can count on that number of points and rebounds.”
Freshman Spencer Weisz has become a player that the Tigers can count on. “I think that Spencer is separating himself in some good ways going forward because he is showing some leadership qualities,” said Henderson of Weisz, who tallied 14 points in the win over Yale and then contributed 13 in the victory over Brown and was later named the Ivy Rookie of the Week.
“I still think Spencer shouldn’t turn the ball over with as good as a passer and how smart he is. I would like to see that four be a zero but he has been really key for us.”
While Henderson would prefer to see the Tigers, now 17-8 overall, 5-6 Ivy, contending for an Ivy title, he is looking for quality efforts from his squad as it wraps up the regular season.
“We are not in the position we would like to be in,” said Henderson, whose team plays at Cornell on March 7 and at Columbia on March 8 before hosting Penn on March 11.
“We have got four losses that were right there, no one is feeling sorry for us because of where we are. I think it is just basketball, games can swing really quickly against you or for you. We have four games left so we are going to milk those.”
Bray, for his part, is confident that the Tigers will take the right approach notwithstanding being stuck in the middle of the Ivy pack in fifth place.
“It is fun to just come and compete,” said Bray. “Whatever role we are in, we are going to compete everyday. Our practices have been great these last couple of weeks. It is unfortunate that we are playing spoiler but if that’s our role we are going to do it well.”