Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
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500 CLUB: Princeton University men’s basketball senior guard Marcus Schroeder looks to make a pass in recent action. Last Saturday, Schroeder chipped in nine points and three steals as Princeton topped Dartmouth 54-38. In the process, Schroeder reached the 500-point mark in his Tiger career.

PU Men’s Hoops Stays Perfect in Ivy Action Hosting Columbia, Cornell in Pivotal Weekend

Bill Alden

There has been a buzz around the Harvard University men’s basketball team this winter.

The program was recently chronicled in Sports Illustrated and many have designated the Crimson as the main challengers to two-time defending Ivy League champion Cornell.

But as the Princeton University men’s basketball team headed up to the Boston area last Friday to take on Harvard — which had fallen to Cornell the week before — the Tigers weren’t fazed by the hoopla surrounding the Crimson.

“We know that a lot has been written about Harvard and Cornell but that stuff doesn’t play into things when you step on the court,” said Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson. “The players focus on what they are doing.”

Princeton showed a sharp focus as they battled the Crimson at a jam-packed Lavietes Pavilion, overcoming an early 6-0 deficit to build a 29-20 halftime lead.

While Johnson was happy to have the lead at the break, he was more impressed by his team’s execution.

“I think it is always good to be up, but there is a growing sense of maturity that even if we had been down, we would have been OK,” said Johnson.

“What was more important was that we were sticking to our game plan. We were getting the kind of shots that we wanted and, for the most part, we were playing the defense that we wanted. Their good players are going to score; it is just a matter of containing them.”

After extending its advantage to 42-28 early in the second half, Princeton had trouble containing Harvard down the stretch as the Crimson cut the Tiger lead to one at 54-53 with 12 seconds left in regulation.

Princeton junior forward Kareem Maddox hit two clutch free throws and the Tigers kept Harvard star Jeremy Lin from getting a good look as his desperation three-pointer at the buzzer fell short and they held on for a 56-53 victory.

In assessing the Tigers’ play down the stretch, Johnson liked the resilience the team showed even as it didn’t play its best basketball.

“I don’t think we made smart plays down the stretch,” said Johnson, who got 14 points and eight rebounds from Maddox in the win with junior Dan Mavraides also chipping in 14.

“But in a weird way, because we practice late game situations so much, we weren’t stunned. We know we can make mistakes and bounce back.”

The next night at Dartmouth, the Tigers made several mistakes in the early going as they fell behind 21-19 by halftime.

“I thought we were emotionally prepared to have a good start but we missed a few lay-ups and didn’t make too many outside shots,” said Johnson. “We allowed Dartmouth to get control of the game and we got a little flat.”

Johnson’s assistant coaches, Tony Newsom, Brian Earl, and Scott Greenman helped light a fire under the team at intermission.

“They were very much motivated by assistant coaches; they had some terrific input,” recalled Johnson. “They told the guys to refocus and to not be too panicky. They said let’s not get too high or low.”

Taking that advice to heart, Princeton started the second half with a 24-9 run to take control of the game on the way to a 54-38 triumph as it improved to 13-5 overall and 4-0 in Ivy League play.

“The response was very good,” said Johnson, who got 11 points and three rebounds from freshman star Ian Hummer in the win with Mavraides chipping in 10. “They executed what they talked about and the defense stayed solid.”

The Tigers, who have now won 11 of their last 12 games, have been getting solid play lately from the 6’8, 225-pound Maddox.

“Kareem is settling into his role,” said Johnson of Maddox who chipped in five points, nine rebounds, and two blocked shots in the victory at Dartmouth.

“He is playing about as naturally as he can. He uses his length on defense; he is able to help us with offensive rebounding and make some shots.”

Freshman Hummer has also been a big help for Princeton. “Ian came to us college-ready; he was a good high school player and played against good competition,” said Johnson. “Our depth at forward is pretty good; they all bring something. When Ian gets his chance, he is good at using his skills set.”

Princeton will need to utilize its range of skills as it hosts Columbia (8-12 overall, 2-4 Ivy) on Friday and 22nd-ranked Cornell (20-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) a night later in what figures to be a pivotal Ivy weekend.

“Joe Jones [of Columbia] is a really good coach; he is very good with Xs and Os and his players play extremely hard,” asserted Johnson.

“I don’t know what else you would want from a coach. It will be a major challenge for us to hold the home court against them; they have given us problems over the years. Cornell has a lot of experience and weapons on offense. The challenge might be more obvious than Columbia.”

In meeting the challenges posed this weekend, Johnson believes his team can’t dwell too much on what its foes bring to the table.

“We have to worry about us,” said Johnson. “Everybody has a different way of playing but we can’t get caught up in what others can do. We need to stay focused on what we do best and keep doing it over and over.”

In Johnson’s view, Princeton has developed the right mindset to achieve that goal.

“We have done a better job of knowing who we are and getting used to each other,” maintained Johnson.

“We have a better feel for what works; chemistry-wise, I think we have come together. We have good leadership from our seniors. They are not leading in points or making the big dunks but they are in the middle of things. They are walking the walk and showing the others how to act on and off the court.”

If things go well on court for the Tigers this weekend, there will be a quite a buzz around the program.

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