January 13, 2016

Producing Dramatic Comeback From 11-Point Deficit, PU Men’s Hoops Edges Penn in OT to Start Ivy Play


COMEBACK KIDS: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz guards a foe in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday at Penn, junior forward Weisz scored 10 points and had three rebounds to help Princeton rally from a late 11-point deficit to pull out a 73-71 overtime win against the Quakers at the Palestra in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 10-4 overall and 1-0 Ivy, are on exam break and will next be in action when they host Division III foe Bryn Athyn on January 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The photo of Mitch Henderson leaping for joy after he helped the Princeton University men’s basketball team stun defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 NCAA tournament is one of the iconic images in program history.

Last Saturday at Penn, Henderson ’98, now the head coach at his alma mater, exhibited a similar outburst of emotion after the Tigers rallied from a late 11-point deficit to pull out an improbable 73-71 overtime win against the Quakers in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

As the buzzer sounded, Henderson hopped up and down on the court at the venerable Palestra in Philadelphia, celebrating in the middle of his players, screaming for joy and pumping his fists.

Afterward, a raspy-voiced Henderson explained his emotions. “We were on our way out the door if one of those shots goes down,” said Henderson, whose team trailed 64-53 with 3:38 remaining in regulation with the crowd of 5,029 in an uproar.

“I haven’t been in this too long, close to 20 years, and you don’t get many like that where you came away with a win. I am really proud of our guys. It was an ugly, ugly win but when the buzzer went off in overtime, I was like did that just happen. I was pretty fired up.”

Henderson was fired up by his team’s resolve, noting that the Tigers had come up short two seasons earlier at Penn in the Ivy opener, suffering a painful 77-74 defeat.

“Two years ago we came out here and took a really difficult loss, we were 12-2 and it was a really hard loss for our program and for our guys,” said Henderson.

“I don’t like to be deja vu but this is a different kind of group. They are really resilient. I think the difference is just that, they believe.”

Princeton junior forward Spencer Weisz and his teammates believed they could get it done in crunch time.

“The way in which we won tonight was very important,” said Weisz, who contributed 10 points, two assists, and three rebounds in the victory as the Tigers improved to 10-4 overall and 1-0 Ivy.

“In practice, we have been working on situations where we are down a few points and need to come back. I think that really showed our maturity tonight. I am just so proud of our team for being resilient and coming out with a win tonight.”

Citing the loss to Penn in 2014, Weisz was thrilled to see the Tigers turn the tables on the Quakers.

“Going back to my freshman year, we had such great momentum coming into the league and to lose here killed our momentum,” said Weisz. “We ended up losing our first four games in the league.”

Tiger freshman guard Devin Cannady won’t soon forget his first Princeton-Penn battle.

“I thought the atmosphere was great, obviously we had to fight our way back,” said Cannady.

“We had to rebound, play defense. It started on the defensive end and once that happened, we could get to the line and get shots on offense.”

Cannady had to take the reins of the Tiger offense when sophomore guard Amir Bell left the game with 1:13 remaining, hitting his head on a drive to prematurely end a breakout game as he tallied a career-high 28 points.

“I have said this all year that our leadership with the upperclassmen has been key,” said Cannady, who ended up with 10 points, three rebounds, and four steals in 32 minutes of action.

“I tried to be poised and they kept me poised. Being a point guard, you have to be an extension of coach Henderson on the court. Amir and I have a good relationship and I knew when he went down, it was the next man up so that is what happened.”

Henderson credited freshmen Cannady and Myles Stephens with manning-up down the stretch.

“That is Devin, he is unafraid,” said Henderson. “That young man has got moxie. He kept taking big shots. I also want to point out Myles Stephens coming in and making two huge free throws to give us the lead (at 72-71).”

The Tigers suffered a big setback in the waning moments of the contest when they lost Bell, who had hit 9-of-13 shots from the floor, including 4-of-5 from three-point range, in piling up his game-high 28 points.

“I thought he was terrific, we really missed him,” said Henderson. “I want him to play like that all the time in practice and dominate practices. He defers in life and on the court. It is OK to defer in life, it makes you a good person; he is very humble but don’t defer on the court. This is a game where you have got to go and he can really go. I thought he was special.”

For Henderson, the win on Saturday marked another special chapter in the history of the heated Princeton-Penn matchup.

“You need a rivalry and Penn is our rival; we will see them in March,” said Henderson, whose players are on exam break and will return to action when they host Division III foe Bryn Athyn on January 24.

“Penn is going to beat some teams. I don’t think anybody in the league is that great and we are a work in progress too. As long as I am coach at Princeton, it is going to be an important rivalry because it reminded me of some games I played here. The environment is a little different but it was the same kind of tension.”