Freshman Guard Schafer Rises to the Occasion As Tiger Men's Hoops Take Control of Ivy Race
By Bill Alden
As the Princeton men's basketball team huddled up before the second half against Brown last Saturday, Tiger freshman guard Max Schafer prepared to take his accustomed seat on the bench.
But Tiger head coach John Thompson III, knowing that senior point guard Ed Persia was finished for the night due to an aching thigh injured in a first half collision, turned to Schafer and ordered him into the fray.
With Princeton trailing by 29-28 in the critical Ivy clash which saw the Tigers enter the night with a 7-1 league mark and the Bears with a 7-2 record, Schafer didn¹t flinch as he took the court.
Playing 16 minutes in the half, Schafer capably handled the ball and hounded Brown star Jason Forte all over the court as the teams dueled before a Jadwin Gym crowd of 5,130 to see who could get a leg up in the league race.
Then with 5:56 remaining and the game tied at 53-53, Schafer made the key shot of the game as he buried a three-pointer from the corner in front of the Princeton bench to give the Tigers a lead they never relinquished in pulling away to a 68-61 win.
Schafer was all smiles as he reflected on his unexpected chance to make a major contribution down the stretch in the team¹s most crucial game so far this season.
"I didn't know Eddie was hurt until the buzzer rang and coach said 'you're going in,'" recalled the 6'1, 195-pound Wayne, New Jersey native whose only points on the night came on his crucial trey. "I was very surprised, I'm just glad we pulled it out. I'm so happy we won the game; the bucket doesn¹t even stand out. The fact that we came back, I'm enjoying this so much."
Thompson wasn¹t surprised, however, that Schafer came through when it counted most. "Max is a helluva player," said Thompson of his scrappy freshman who came into Saturday averaging 2.1 points and 14 minutes per contest. "He's a tough kid. That [shot] was very much a key point. Glad he did it but no surprise on this end."
Schafer's heroics marked the latest proof that the Tigers are developing into a team with interchangeable parts that result in a championship depth.
"We have people that we have confidence in, that teammates have confidence that they can perform," said Thompson, who got 20 points from Judson Wallace, 15 from Andre Logan and 12 from Will Venable in the win over the Bears.
"So on a night when Eddie gets hurt, we have guys who have played minutes by this point and can step in. That¹s how this team has been put together. Someone¹s hurt, someone's having an off night, hopefully we¹ll have experienced pieces by this time of the year who are comfortable out there and can step in."
Thompson is particularly pleased by the increasingly big contribution he is getting from Schafer and his classmates Harrison Schaen and Luke Owings and told them so before the Brown game.
"As I said to them at some point this weekend, the year¹s almost over, stop talking about who's a freshman and who's not," recalled Thompson whose team got the weekend off on a high note on Friday when it fought back from a 14-point deficit in the first half against Yale to cruise to a 70-58 win over the Bulldogs.
"You guys have played significant minutes. You're basketball players, you know what you're doing. Let's just go play. I think we¹re at the point where it's not freshmen and sophomores, we're just 14-16 guys trying to figure out a way to win."
With Princeton at 15-7 overall and at least two games ahead of all of its league foes in the loss column with five games remaining, Schafer believes everybody in the Tigers' camp is on the same page.
"I think the guys know their roles," asserted Schafer, who will be looking to help Princeton keep rolling this weekend as it hosts Columbia on February 27 and Cornell on February 28.
"We have guys that almost go out there and specialize. It's great that we have guys that want to do that. There are a lot of teams where guys just want to go out and do their own individual thing."