January 9, 2019

Stephens Displays Senior Leadership, Passion, As PU Men’s Hoops Edges Penn in Ivy Opener

BOUND FOR GLORY: Princeton University men’s basketball player Myles Stephens, left, snags a rebound last Saturday against Penn. Senior star Stephens grabbed a career-high boards and scored 11 points to help Princeton edge the Quakers 68-65 in overtime in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 8-5 overall, will have a rematch against Penn on January 12 in Philadelphia at The Palestra. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Myles Stephens has been battling an injured knee in recent weeks, but he was determined to block out the pain as the Princeton University men’s basketball team hosted Penn last Saturday in the Ivy League opener.

“I haven’t played much this past week, trying to get it better,” said senior guard Stephens, a native of nearby  Lawrenceville. “It is Penn, so ‘by any means necessary’ is what we say.”

The 6’5, 210-pound Stephens displayed a mean game in the paint against the Quakers, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds and chipping in 11 points to help Princeton pull out a 68-65 overtime nail-biter in front of a throng of 4,212 packing Jadwin Gym.

Stephens was determined to do whatever necessary to help the Tigers prevail.

“We definitely wanted this win; I wanted to do anything I can to help this team win,” said Stephens, who wore a brace on his right knee.

“We have needed rebounds a lot lately so that was something I was trying to do.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson tipped his hat to Stephens and his gritty effort.

“Myles played like a dominant senior, 16 rebounds is unbelievable,” asserted Henderson.

“He is passionate, he is emotional. I just thought that the guys really approached the game in the right way and we are really happy with that.”

Henderson knew his team needed passion to overcome a dogged and talented Penn squad which went on a 11-3 run in the last five minutes of regulation to force overtime.

“That was a great win, that is a really good team,” said Henderson, whose squad improved to 8-5 overall.

“It felt very much like the Penn games that I remember as a player. That was a tense, heavy game; I just felt it tight here (pointing to his heart). We just happened to make a couple of more plays. We were fortunate, we made some mistakes in situations, like giving the ball back to them at the end of the game and missed some free throws. That usually costs you.”

Princeron was fortunate to have junior center Richmond Aririguzoh in top form as he tallied a career-high 20 points and battled Penn star A.J. Brodeur tooth-and-nail in the paint.

“Richmond was terrific on both ends,” said Henderson of Aririguzoh who was later named the Ivy Player of the Week for the first time in his career.

“Richmond is putting in his time and it is showing up. That is what you want a team to be about.”

Aririguzoh knew that he faced a major challenge in his battle with junior standout Brodeur, who ended up with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

“He is an incredibly tough player to guard,” said Aririguzoh of Brodeur.

“He is really talented, he knows how to use his body and the angles so you just have to be as solid as you can. He is just a really great player so you have to stay in front him and make him take the toughest shots possible.”

Princeton showed mental toughness by coming through in overtime after weathering the late Penn run.

“I was absolutely concerned, [Devon] Goodman made the 3 to tie it,” said Henderson

“I thought we were getting good looks, but the whole bench was thinking ‘we have got to go inside.’ In overtime, we struggled to get going. We lost four overtime games last year in the league and it is really nice to get one here and feel like that is over.”

Stephens saw the triumph as a big step for the Tigers. “We use it as fuel, we talk about it all the time,” said Stephens. “That is the difference from last year to this year; those four overtime games as a loss and then coming out on top this time and being 1-0, that is all we could ask for.”

Henderson is seeing growth in his squad it has posted wins in four of its last five games, including a 67-66 win at No. 17 Arizona State on December 29.

“We are not the same team; we are totally different,” said Henderson. “We came back from Arizona State different; we went down to Duke different. The non-conference schedule was great for us. It was a hard schedule, it prepared us. We are a different from a month ago and we need to be different than we are right now in February.”

The Tigers face a hard test next week as they have a rematch against Penn (10-5) on January 12 in Philadelphia at The Palestra.

“Next week is going to be hell; it is going to be brutal,” said Henderson. “We will have a little fun tonight and then we will get right back at it.”

Looking ahead, Henderson knows his team faces a brutal campaign this winter in a league featuring parity across the board.

“Everybody has good players, there is good coaching around the league,” added Henderson. “It is going to be a grind.”

Stephens, for his part, is looking forward to that grind. “Top to bottom, the Ivy League is so good; it has gotten better every single year I have been here,” said Stephens.

“This first game has shown it is going to be like this every night. It is going to be a tough battle and then the next night on these back-to-backs, is going to another tough battle. We have got to be ready for that.”