February 20, 2019

Making a Stand with their Backs to the Wall, PU Men’s Hoops Edges Dartmouth to End Skid

MAKING A STAND: Princeton University men’s basketball player Myles Stephens puts on the defensive pressure in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday against visiting Dartmouth, senior star and co-captain Stephens contributed 17 points, eight rebounds, and a blocked shot to help the Tigers pull out a 69-68 win over the Big Green. Princeton, now 13-8 overall and 5-3 Ivy League, hosts Cornell on February 22 and Columbia on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It may not have been a must-win game for the Princeton University men’s basketball team but it certainly felt like it.

Mired in a three-game losing streak in Ivy League play as it hosted Dartmouth last Saturday evening, Princeton was in danger of sliding out of the race for the top four in the league standings and spot in the Ivy postseason tournament.

“We had our backs up against the wall with a three-game skid,” said Princeton senior star and co-captain Myles Stephens.

“We have a big week with Cornell and Columbia coming up. We wanted a little bit of momentum going into that.”

After taking a 37-32 lead at halftime, the Tigers found their backs to the wall in the second half as the Big Green led 61-57 with 4:07 left in regulation.

Stephens wasn’t surprised that the contest turned into a nail-biter. “In my freshman year, I feel like there was some separation in the league between the top team and the bottom team,” said Stephens.

“This year every game is a fight, home or away. Everyone is so good and you know each other so well. We play each other twice and it is so hard.”

With Stephens applying some hard defense to sharp-shooting Dartmouth star guard Brendan Barry, the Tigers turned the tide, rallying for a 69-68 win before 2,322 at Jadwin Gym as they improved to 13-9 overall and 5-3 Ivy.

“He is such a good shooter; he is a good player off the dribble so it was keeping him from shooting that three and trying to keep him in front at the same time,” said Stephens of Barry. “It was a challenge.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was relieved to see his club survive another tense Ivy clash.

“The league is awful and it is so fun at the same time, everything is really tight,” said Henderson.

“I am trying to tell these guys that it is different than what these guys are used to. That is a really good win for us, no way around it.”

Stephens contributed 17 points, eight rebounds, and a blocked shot while junior center Richmond Aririguzoh chipped in 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks to help the Tigers prevail.

“Myles and Richmond were both terrific and I given them a lot of compliments,” said Henderson.

Freshman guard Jaelin Llewellyn also got some compliments from Henderson as he made some big plays down the stretch, ending up with 14 points and four rebounds.

“I was most happy for Jaelin; I called a play for Rich and he gave me a look, he was mad and that is what we have been waiting for,” said Henderson. “He wanted the ball. I thought tonight you saw what we know from him.”

Freshman Max Johns also had a big night, chipping in three points, three steals, and a rebound in 17 minutes off the bench

“He is consistent; the other night on the radio show he said my role is to defend and cut,” said Henderson.

“I love that and that is what he is doing. He made a big three tonight. He is out there in big moments with our veterans and coming through for us.”

With Princeton hosting Cornell on February 22 and Columbia on February 23, Henderson is hoping to see his squad come through again in some big moments.

“I think it is getting better everyday; tonight we got better and we know we have to carry it on,” said Henderson. “I think as long as you are playing really well in March, that is the key.”

In the view of Stephens, getting better will center on paying attention to detail and showing competitive fire.

“It really comes down to details and who wants it more, the grit, getting 50/50 balls, grabbing rebounds, and not fouling,” said Stephens.

“It usually comes down to the end. It is rare that someone goes off for 30 and that is a big difference. It is usually the small details.”