December 18, 2019

With Wright Contributing Off the Bench, PU Men’s Hoops Showing Improvement

THE WRIGHT STUFF: Princeton University men’s basketball player Ethan Wright goes up for a lay-up last week as Princeton hosted Monmouth. Sophomore guard Wright tallied 14 points off the bench as the Tigers fell 67-66 on a buzzer-beater in the December 10 contest. Princeton, which improved to 2-7 with an 80-65 win over Fairleigh Dickinson last Saturday, hosts Hofstra on December 19 in its last action before the holidays. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Ethan Wright didn’t make much of an impact initially coming off the bench for the Princeton University men’s basketball team as it hosted Monmouth last week.

In the first half of the December 10 contest, sophomore guard Wright made 1-of-3 shoots for two points and committed a turnover in 10 minutes of work.

Re-entering the game with 15:43 left in regulation, Wright made a foul and had 0 points in a 3:34 stint.

But when Wright was inserted back into the game with 11:00 left and Princeton trailing 51-37, he was inspired by his teammates to overcome his early struggles.

“I had a little bit of a slow start but I was feeding off of my teammates,” said Wright.

“They have so much confidence in me. My first couple of shots didn’t go down. I had a turnover and some bad plays on defense and they were just keep going, keep on shooting,”

Wright got going, making six straight free throws as Princeton cut the deficit to 52-48.

“I made some defensive plays and the team started running,” said Wright, a 6’3, 180-pound native of Newton Centre, Mass. who averaged 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 19 appearances last season.

“I made some shots, got some free throws to go down so I was feeling a little better.”

With 2:07 left, Wright drained a three-pointer to draw Princeton to within one at 62-61. After Princeton took the lead at 63-62, Wright had a rebound and a steal.

Wright’s good work went for naught, though, as Monmouth’s Ray Salnave hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Hawks a 67-66 win as the Tigers dropped to 1-7.

Reflecting on a night when he ended up with a career-high 14 points along with three steals and two rebounds, Wright attributed his breakthrough to fine-tuning his daily routine and gaining experience. 

“I think it is a lot of the discipline stuff, a lot of the little things and confidence too,” said Wright, who is now averaging 4.0 points and 2.1 rebounds a game this season.

“On defense I am a lot more confident. I know a little more about what we are doing. I try to be more disciplined. I have gained better habits, coming into the gym earlier, getting more sleep, things like that. I want to focus more on basketball. I am trying to be more consistent with that as the season progresses.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson credited Wright with giving the Tigers a big lift.

“Ethan was terrific,” said Henderson. “I have been asking the guys do we need to lower our expectations and they say no. So my expectations are extraordinarily high. I have those expectations of Ethan; I want him and need him to be great. I thought he was terrific defensively too.”

While Henderson was happy with his team’s terrific rally against Monmouth, he acknowledged that the Tigers are clearly a
work in progress.

“I was proud of the way we fought back in the game, we gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game,” said Henderson.

“I thought our defense was excellent for about 15 minutes. Kudos to Monmouth, we went down there last year and kind of stole one, making a couple of last second threes. The table is turned. We are getting better but we have lots of work to do.”

As usual, senior center Richmond Aririguzoh did yeoman’s work for the Tigers, posting a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

“I think he has great potential and I like the use of that world because Richmond is continually improving,” said Henderson.

“I have always said I want us to be just like him, which is you are a work in progress and there is a humbleness to him, OK, I can get better. He can make a lot more plays. The one thing we have asked these guys is to not hang their heads.”

Four days later Princeton made plays, topping Fairleigh Dickinson 80-65 and showing that they weren’t hanging their heads.

“I am very positive on the team as long as Richmond and his senior classmates [Jose Morales and Will Gladson] are focused on what it takes to win,” said Henderson, whose team hosts Hofstra on December 19 in its last action before the holidays.

“We can do anything. Any team can get better because I really believe that in college basketball it is about the older kids. As long as they are setting the examples up front and they are staying together, you can do anything. We have been a one-bid league [to the NCAA tournament] for a long time and we are probably going to be a one-bid league this year. We have some time, not that much, but we have to keep getting better.”

Wright, for his part, credits those seniors with helping the Tigers to keep believing in themselves.

“We have great seniors, we look to them everyday, they lead by example,” said Wright.

“They are always talking to us. They are very positive and they are helping us get better each and everyday, showing us the way. We trust them and we support them and they support us. We are going to stay positive and we are going to look to them when times get hard. I think we are going to get through that.”