With the Princeton University men’s basketball team hosting the little-known University of Incarnate Word last Saturday morning at 11 a.m., things were a little quiet at Jadwin Gym.
With the crowd of 1,554 on hand growing listless, Princeton sleepwalked through the first 12 minutes of the contest, finding themselves down 29-12 to the school from San Antonio, Texas, which is in its second year of Division I play.
Waking up a little bit, the Tigers went on a 15-2 run to narrow the gap to 31-27 at halftime.
Princeton forged ahead 43-40 in the early stages of the second half before the Cardinals responded with a 16-8 run of their own.
Then Princeton sophomore forward Steven Cook put a charge into the crowd, flying in for a thunderous dunk from the baseline. Adding a free throw on the play to make the UIW lead to 56-54, it seemed like the Tigers had seized the momentum.
Instead, Princeton squandered that advantage as the Cardinals fought back and regained control of the contest.
“I really thought the play that stood out was when Steve had a nice baseline drive with the and one finish and they come right back and come down with 6 minutes left and get their own and one, which was a huge swing play,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson. “Then we come down the floor and miss a layup; we are just not understanding what it is going to take.
The Tigers never got closer than three the rest of the game as they went on to lose 79-68 and drop to 1-3.
Afterward, Henderson didn’t mince words in assessing the setback. “It was a disappointing loss for us,” said Henderson, who got a career-high 22 points from sophomore Spencer Weisz in the defeat.
“I don’t want to make light of us at all because I think we have got a long way to go but we seem to manage to allow teams to do what they do really well. We are a work in progress with more work than I would like us to be needing, especially going into a really difficult weekend ahead.”
Cook, for his part, shared Henderson’s frustration. “I thought a lot of improvements could be made across the board as a team,” said Cook, who scored 14 points and had seven rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes of work off the bench in the loss.
“Defensively I don’t think we did a great job. Individually, I think about improvements I could be making. We are always about work. It is a long season and we are just four games in.”
Henderson is seeing improved play from Cook. “He is terrific, I don’t think he is going to come off the bench any more,” said Henderson. “We have got to get him in there because he has been very good. I think Steve has done what we have asked him to do. He is aggressive going to the rim.”
Cook acknowledged that he has benefitted from having a year of college ball under his belt.
“I am personally feeling more comfortable,” said Cook, a 6’5, 185-pound native of Winnetka, Ill.
“We are a young team in general but that is no excuse. We need to step up, we have a lot of experience, even among the young guys, and we need to play that way. We need to play with poise.”
In Henderson’s view, the Tigers also need to do some soul searching. “I hope they learn that it has got to sting and it has got to hurt,” said Henderson, whose team heads to California this week where it will compete in the Wooden Legacy, an eight-team event Thursday through Sunday in Fullerton and Anaheim.
“They have to look themselves in the mirror a little bit and say OK what are you afraid of here? Are you afraid to be great, are you afraid to work really hard in practice, are you giving it everything you have got at all times?”
Cook, for his part, believes the Tigers are ready to give their all. “We don’t let ourselves be disappointed for too long; this program has always been about work,” asserted Cook.
“We have to stay focused on what we need to do, individually and as a team. We are going to have a big practice on Monday and we are going to work from there.”