February 15, 2017

Senior Star Cook Enjoys Milestone Weekend As PU Men’s Hoops Tops Cornell, Columbia

HANDLING HIS BUSINESS: Princeton University men’s basketball player Steven Cook handles the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, Cook scored 19 points and had eight rebounds to help Princeton edge Columbia 61-59. A day earlier, Cook passed the 1,000-point mark in his Princeton career when he tallied nine points in a 69-60 win over Cornell. Princeton, which has posted 11 straight wins and is now 15-6 overall and 8-0 Ivy League, plays at Yale on February 17 and at Brown on February 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Columbia’s Jake Killingsworth lofted a three-pointer with seconds remaining in regulation and the Princeton University men’s basketball team clinging to a 61-59 lead over the Lions, the crowd at Jadwin Gym held its breath as the ball flew to the hoop.

The shot clanged off the rim and Princeton senior star Steven Cook cradled the rebound in his arms with a smile of relief spreading across his face as the Tigers held on for the win before a crowd of 2,803.

“I was mainly focused on my guy; I was just following our process of staying attached and just trying to make that as difficult as possible,” said Cook.

“We were able to foul at the end there and whittle the clock down a little bit. We were just trying to make it as difficult as possible for them.”

In winning its 11th-straight game and improving to 15-6 overall and 8-0 Ivy League, things got difficult for the Tigers after they built a 46-26 lead early in the second half.

“We find ways to win, we had a 20 point lead and they whittled it down,” said Cook, who had 19 points and eight rebounds in the win. “Good teams find a way to win at the end of the game.”

With Princeton’s game against Columbia making its fifth game in nine days, Cook and his teammates were ready for that grind.

“I thought body-wise we were feeling OK,” said Cook. “It is a tough stretch, five games in nine days but we took it game by game and tried to take care of our bodies, coming in with the right mindset with a little bit less preparation. I thought we could have been sharper but this next week at practice will be big for us to prepare for the next weekend.”

A day earlier, Cook enjoyed a big moment as he passed the 1,000-point mark in his Princeton career when he tallied nine points in a 69-60 win over Cornell.

“It is definitely an accomplishment you look forward to when you come to Princeton but at the same time it is just another bucket, it is just another point,” said Cook, a 6’5, 200-pound native of Winnetka, Ill. who is averaging 13.6 points and 5.5 rebounds this season and now has 1,027 points in his career.

“I just want to win a championship this year and that is the only goal I really care about at the end of the day.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson believes that his team has been showing the heart of a champion in recent play.

“I think the guys are figuring out our different ways to win and I really think this is going to help us going forward,” said Henderson.

“It was not pretty but I thought last night we weren’t sharp and I think we were very fortunate to win. I think that is a really good Columbia team and I am happy to get the win.”

While Henderson wasn’t happy to see his team get outscored 33-15 by Columbia down the stretch in the contest, he has no problems winning ugly.

“It is a really confident group and they are super aggressive; some of those shots we were getting were good shots, they just didn’t go down for us,” said Henderson.

“I like that we are getting into these situations. I don’t like that it takes years off of my life but I like that we are getting into these situations and we can get better.”

For Henderson, getting to work with Cook has been a great situation.

“I would tell you he cares less about that than he does about making the team win and doing whatever he can to make it get better,” said Henderson.

“I am counting down the days that I get a chance to be with him. He has just been such a joy to coach and this whole senior class is a really special group.”

In reflecting on Princeton’s winning streak, the longest for the program since an 11-game run in the 1998-99 season, Henderson credited his seniors with being catalysts of that surge.

“First, the growth of the seniors leading us and secondly Myles Stephens and Devin Cannady emerging as really good players,” said Henderson, whose team will look to keep rolling as it plays at Yale on February 17 and at Brown on February 18.

“I think the key to being good is having consistency. In the last weekend, you have seen Richmond (Aririguzoh) playing a little more. We are going to need sharpness from a lot of different people going forward. There is a lot of basketball left. We are at Yale on Friday, that is going to be a tough one.”

Cook, for his part, believes the toughness that Princeton displayed over the weekend bodes well for the future.

“It is a big stretch for us,” said Cook. “It feels good to be 8-0 in the league with three weekends left. It wasn’t always pretty but we got it done.”