January 16, 2019

With Desrosiers Doing Dirty Work on the Boards, PU Men’s Hoops Sweeps Season Series with Penn

PHILLY SPECIAL: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jerome Desrosiers puts on the defensive pressure in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, sophomore forward Desrosiers contributed nine rebounds to help Princeton to defeat Penn 62-53 in Philadelphia. The win gave the Tigers, now 9-5 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, a sweep of the season series with the Quakers. Princeton is currently on exam break and returns to action when it hosts Division III foe Wesley on January 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Jerome Desrosiers didn’t have a point, an assist, a block or a steal, but the Princeton University men’s basketball team wouldn’t have beaten Penn last weekend without him.

The sophomore forward contributed nine rebounds to the Tigers’ staggering 55-34 rebounding edge as they swept the season series with a 62-53 win over Penn last Saturday in Philadelphia before a crowd of 6,179 at The Palestra.

“It feels great,” said Desrosiers. “They’re our rivals, so getting those two wins to start the year feels good. The guys are happy. We have the momentum going. We just want to keep it going.”

Sustaining the momentum off the 2-0 start to Ivy League play and fourth straight win overall will have to wait, however, until Princeton comes off its exam break. The Tigers are on their annual hiatus for fall semester exams and will next be in action on January 27 when they host Division III foe Wesley in their final non-conference game of the season.

“Our group is coming together at the right time,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson after the Tigers improved to 9-5 overall. “We came together at the right time. These games, they weren’t that pretty but they were very intense.”

After edging Penn 68-65 in overtime at Jadwin Gym on January 5, Princeton had to do it all again on the road a week later. The travel partners were tied at halftime, 27-27, and it was still a tight 50-47 game when the Tigers pulled away thanks to a late 10-3 run.

“We were ready,” said Desrosiers. “We were ready to take every punch they had. It was actually a lot of fun. It was good to hear how quiet the crowd got when we won.”

The Tigers silenced the Penn crowd with some timely defense, clutch free throw shooting, and important rebounding. Senior guard Devin Cannady led Princeton with 20 points to move into the top five in Princeton program history, and added a career-high 12 rebounds. Junior center Richmond Aririguzoh continued his steady development with 17 points and nine rebounds, and senior guard Myles Stephens had 13 points and 10 rebounds. It’s the fourth time in five years that Princeton has swept Penn.

“It’s really hard to win there,” said Henderson. “When you know everybody so well, it comes down to a senior, veteran week. Myles, Devin and Richmond made contributions to be successful. The senior leadership has been terrific. The group is really focused on winning.”

Cannady and Stephens gave Princeton two players with double-doubles, and Aririguzoh and Desrosiers were a rebound apiece away from giving the Tigers four players with double-digit rebounds.

“Coach has been putting an emphasis on rebounding,” said Desrosiers.

“In the beginning of the year, we weren’t good and we were getting outrebounded a lot, especially out of conference. I think it’s all a mindset. You know you can get them. It’s almost turned into a competition. Myles against Penn at home got 16 rebounds. We’re trying to beat that individually. Me, Devin, and Rich, we’re trying to beat him in games. It’s like a competition within a competition. It’s actually fun.”

The 6’2 Cannady is the one outlier in the group. Shooting guards aren’t expected to get double-digit rebounds, but he’s been a regular rebounder at both ends.

“He’s possessed the way he’s rebounding,” said Henderson. “When I was at Northwestern, we had a guy, Tim Young, who was an incredible rebounding guard. Devin has been possessed. It helps when one of your best shooters gets rebounds, it tends to get the ball up the court quickly.”

Princeton is rebounding well as a team recently, and Desrosiers, a  6’7, 230-pound native of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, has been contributing even more since moving into the starting lineup after Christmas. He had 16 points and nine rebounds in the 67-66 upset of Arizona State on December 29, then had 10 points and five rebounds in the first win over Penn before coming through with two offensive rebounds and seven defensive boards at Penn.

“We made a big point to him that he’s got to get rebounds for us,” said Henderson of Derosiers, who is averaging 4.2 boards a game this season, up from 2.7 last winter.

“He’s another guy who’s been rebounding possessed. He’s getting them above the rim with two hands. Jerome is going to have great games for us on the offensive end.”

Desrosiers had 10 starts as a freshman, and has found himself back in the starting lineup in the last two weeks. He’s using his experience to contribute more, and expects to be able to help the Tigers navigate the grind of the Ivies.

“The first time you play in the Ivy League, you don’t know what to expect,” said Desrosiers, who has five starts so far this winter.

“It’s kind of stressful. You don’t know the players and it’s hard to know who does what. Now I know the players and what they do and it gives me a little advantage. I know I can put more focus on my offense. Now that I know how the teams are and who the best players on the team are, it takes a little stress off me.”

Desrosiers gained momentum coming out of last season with starts on the final weekend and picked up his scoring with double-digit output in his final three games of his freshman year. He showed promise with a shooting percentage of .416 from 3-point range as a freshman, good for seventh overall in the Ivies.

“Last year my 3-pointer got a lot better from high school,” said Desrosiers.

“This year is a lot more about finishing around the rim with both hands. There’s also the defensive end where I have to be able to guard from the 2 to the 5, so I can be on the court and guard anybody at anytime. It’s one of the big improvements that I’ve tried to do, so it’s worked out well.”

Princeton hopes to improve its team shooting after the break as it is shooting 40.1 percent from the floor, which would be the lowest shooting percentage for the program since the 2006-2007 Tigers shot 41 percent.

“I know we’re a good shooting team,” said Henderson. “I think we have the best shooter in the country in Devin. I’m proud that our defense is where it is. I tend to think good defense leads to better offensive possession. Jaelin [Llewellyn] started back with us in the middle of December, so it’s been less than a month ago. Our ability to grow together will be a factor in our offensive growth. We have a lot of weapons.”

The Tigers’ rebounding and defense has helped to overcome some poor shooting. Princeton limited Penn to 33 percent shooting, including 2-for-8 down the stretch as they pulled away for the season sweep heading into exams.

“None of us wanted the break like that,” said Desrosiers. “We wanted to keep going, but we can’t because of exams. Whenever we have free time or want some time off from studying, we’ll come down to the gym and have some workouts with the coaches. Lifting hasn’t stopped. We have to stay in shape. Every day you have to make sure you run a little, get your legs moving. And shooting, that gets done during the workouts. Whenever you need a break, you come down to the gym and do something. You keep your heart going.”

Earning the two tight wins over Penn was heart-stopping at times but surviving the nail-biters has the squad in good position over the 12 remaining conference games to make the top four in the standings and earn a spot in the Ivy League postseason tournament.

“We’re all feeling pretty good,” said Desrosiers of the Tigers, who resume Ivy action when they play at Columbia on February 1.

“We just want to get finals over with. For me, I’m happy and the studying isn’t as hard. When you lose, everything is so much harder. With a win, it feels great. Everything is a lot more fun and less stressful. We’re at a good place now and we want to stay there.”