Hun Alum Morales Emerging as Sparkplug, Helping PU Mens’ Hoops Earn 3rd Straight Win
YES WAY, JOSE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jose Morales displays his defensive intensity in a game last winter. Junior guard Morales, a former Hun School standout, provided a spark for Princeton as it defeated George Washington 73-52 last Saturday. Morales contributed 13 points, four rebounds, and three steals as the Tigers posted their third straight win and improved to 4-2. Princeton hosts Saint Joseph’s on December 5 before facing St. John’s on December 9 in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Jose Morales logged just 149 minutes in 28 appearances off the bench in his first two winters on the Princeton University men’s basketball team.
Over the last four games this season, junior guard Morales, a former Hun School standout, has played 120 minutes, emerging as a spark of the Tigers with his scrappy play and fearless drives to the hoop.
Last Saturday, Morales contributed 13 points, four rebounds, and three steals to help the Tigers defeat George Washington 73-52 for their third straight victory as they improved to 4-2.
“It is what you want, you want to be out there to help your team win,” said Morales. “Whatever I can do to help, I am going to do.”
Helping the Tigers at both ends of the court on Saturday, Morales made a key play with 8:20 left in the game, stealing the ball and racing past GW defenders to put in a layup to give the Tigers a 50-45 lead. That started a 13-0 run as Princeton pulled way to the win over the Colonials.
“We were able to stay solid most of the game on defense and once you do that you tend to relax a little bit,” said Morales.
“It is one play at a time there and for the most part we were just staying on front of our guy.”
With 3:10 left, Morales produced one of the highlights of the night, lofting an alley-oop pass to Devin Cannady who slammed home a thunderous dunk.
“We have a couple of guys who can get up like that and I am always looking for them,” said Morales.
Looking to do his all has taken its toll physically as Morales was wearing a shoulder brace and a left knee wrap last Saturday. He was sidelined early this season due to the shoulder issue and missed considerable time last season due to leg injuries.
“That has always been my game,” said a grinning Morales, a 5’9, 170-pound native of Miramar, Fla. who is averaging 6.5 points and 3.0 assists a game in his four appearances so far this season. “I am always getting banged up.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the way his team banged heads with the Colonials.
“It is a three-point game and from that stretch on, the guys continued to stay aggressive and methodically got stops,”said Henderson.
“We have now had a couple of games, Monmouth and now this one where it is a slugfest. I feel really good about coming out on the right side of those games.”
In Henderson’s view, Princeton’s defensive effort made the difference against GW.
“We have been turning it over a lot in the first half,” said Henderson. “I credit our defense, which has been a point of emphasis for us, for helping us out. It was a really good home win after the last home game (a 77-66 loss to FDU on November 21) not being a good game at all. I am happy with the guys.”
The play of Morales is making Henderson very happy. “We need him bad because it allows Myles [Stephens] to play where he wants to play and it allows Devin [Cannady] to play where he wants to play,” said Henderson.
“He can take criticism, he can take hard coaching. He is doing things when he needs to do them and he makes the plays. Jose is a spark. What I was telling him is that he has got to be junkyard dog. He also has to be solid, especially right now without Jaelin [Llewellyn]. We need somebody to take care of the ball.”
Junior forward Richmond Aririguzoh was solid against GW, scoring 13 points and pulling down four rebounds.
“He is starting to smile and show his personality a little more on the court, which we all like,” said Henderson.
“Everybody on the team loves him, we need him. In our league, some of the most impactful offensive players are bigs and early on the schedule, we are going to see some of those guys and we need Richmond to be solid.”
The impact of Princeton’s come-from-behind 60-57 win over Monmouth on November 24 is still being felt by the Tigers.
“Two years ago we went up to Monmouth and had a really great turnaround game,” said Henderson.
“We didn’t play very well at Monmouth this year but we played with guts. With this team, I keep telling them, there is no going back from that game. They have to keep going forward with what we are.”
Paring down his rotation, Henderson is getting a better sense of what he has in this team.
“I would like to play a lot of guys but we are playing to win,” said Henderson.
“We want to play to win and we want to make sure that we are putting the guys on the floor that are going to win the league. That is the objective and I think right now, that is where we want to be.”
Morales, for his part, is looking to make the most of his minutes.
“It is staying solid and making my teammates better,” said Morales. “Defensively, it is staying down and gambling a little bit.”