January 15, 2020

Holding Off Furious Comeback by Penn, PU Men’s Hoops Edges Quakers, Now 2-0 Ivy

FLYING HIGH: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jaelin Llewellyn flies to the hoop in a game earlier this season. Last Friday evening at Jadwin Gym, sophomore guard Llewellyn contributed 14 points and four rebounds to help Princeton defeat Penn 63-58 and complete a season sweep of the Quakers. The Tigers, now 6-8 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, are on exam break and will resume action when they host Division III foe Rutgers-Camden on January 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Mitch Henderson knows from hard experience that the heated rivalry between the Princeton University men’s basketball team and Penn involves a unique ferocity.

“I was a freshman at the Palestra and I got the taunting chant,” said Princeton head coach Henderson, a star guard for the Tigers in the late 1990s.

“I like playing Penn, we like playing Penn. They bring out the best in us and that is what rivals should be. I think that is the best thing about sports.”

Last Friday evening as Princeton hosted Penn at Jadwin Gym just six days after beating the Quakers 78-64 in the Ivy League opener for both teams, it was the visitors who brought it in the early going, jumping out to a 10-2 lead.

“They started [Jarrod] Simmons, they made some adjustments to what they were doing which was problematic for us,” said Henderson.

“They moved [A.J.] Brodeur away which keeps Richmond [Aririguzoh] away from the basket.”

The Tigers, though, didn’t let Penn run away with the contest. “Ryan [Schwieger] made a three to make it 10-5 which is a lot better than 10-2; that allowed us to catch our breath,” said Henderson.

“They punched us in the face bad and then it was 10-10 and at first media timeout. We were holding on for the first few minutes of the game but we wrested control back of the game.”

While Princeton stretched its lead to 56-41 with 8:53 remaining in the second half, it nearly lost that control when the Quakers narrowed the gap to 61-58 before Jose Morales hit a twisting lay-up with 10 seconds left as the Tigers pulled out a 63-58 win in front of a Jadwin throng of 3,040.

“There were a couple of huge plays where they had some steals to get it down to three,” said Henderson, whose team posted its fifth win in six games and moved to 6-8 overall and 2-0 Ivy League. “We turned the ball over but credit to them. I thought Jose’s and-one drive was the play that stood out obviously.”

A relieved Henderson was happy to go into the school’s exam hiatus with a sweep of archrival Penn.

“That is a really long two weeks, I am thrilled with being 2-0 against a really good team,” said Henderson, whose squad returns to action when it hosts Division III foe Rutgers-Camden on January 26 and then resumes Ivy play with home games against Dartmouth and Harvard on January 31 and February 1.

“That was an incredible game, it had a little bit of everything from a fan’s perspective. They are very difficult to guard.”

Junior guard Schwieger sensed that the rematch would be difficult for the Tigers.

“It was tough, we knew it wasn’t going to be like the first game,” said Schwieger, who tallied 16 points and had four assists in the win, later getting named as the Ivy Player of the Week.  “We knew it was going to be a closer one. They went ahead early and we just responded well.”

When Penn responded with its late rally, Princeton maintained its cool in closing out the game.

“We just didn’t get discouraged; I think we got discouraged early in the year when we would go down,” said Schwieger.

“In the last game, they made a couple of runs and we fought back. In this game they were up and we didn’t get discouraged. We just kept going and eventually it went our way.”

Utilizing a balanced attack with Jaelin Llewellyn scoring 14 points, Drew Friberg adding nine, Aririguzoh getting eight to go with 16 rebounds, and Ethan Wright and Tosan Evboumwan tallying six apiece, the Tigers kept the Penn defense on its heels.

“We look to go inside to Rich but we were going inside and they were doubling him,” said Schwieger. “So we got it out; we were moving the ball and we made some shots.”

With Princeton going on exam break, Schwieger believes the focus on academics won’t blunt the team’s momentum.

“It is kind of weird in the middle of the season, having a two-week break with no games,” said Schwieger.

“We have to take care of things up campus with finals and papers and still be getting in the gym and working on that stuff.”

Henderson, for his part, is confident his players will take care of their business.

“That is who we are, that is what goes on here,” said Henderson. “We are going to get together and watch the game and talk about the plan for the next few weeks. The guys have got to study. It is a huge week, we have engineers and premed guys. They have got a lot of work to do.”

Looking ahead, Henderson believes the Tigers are going in the right direction. “We are guarding, we are taking a little bit better shots,” said Henderson.

“Ryan is a very difficult matchup, Tosan is a very difficult matchup. We are very difficult to guard and if we can guard, we can be special. What I know about the 31st is that it is a whole new season for us. We have to get back into it at that point. We have a long time to think about it. We haven’t been very good here so far this season but we are getting there.”

In Schwieger’s view, the Princeton players simply need to pick up where they left off in the battles against Penn to be good down the stretch.

“I think it is the same stuff that got us these first two wins – prepare well in practice, come in everyday locked in, and try to get better everyday,” said Schwieger.