Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 2
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
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STANDING STILL: Princeton University junior forward Alex Okafor gets stymied in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, Okafor chipped in three points, two rebounds, and a blocked shot as Princeton fell 68-49 at Lehigh. The setback was the 11th straight loss for the Tigers, setting a record for the longest losing streak in program history, breaking the mark for futility set in 1947 and 1908. Princeton, now 2-11, will look to snap the skid when it hosts Lafayette (8-6) on January 9.

PU Men's Hoops Makes Wrong Kind of History in Coach Johnson’s Return Trip to Lehigh

Bill Alden

In 1996, Sydney Johnson came to Lehigh University’s Stabler Arena with the Princeton University men’s basketball team and helped the Tigers make history.

On a frigid March evening, team captain Johnson came up big from his guard position as the Tigers edged Penn 63-56 in overtime to win the Ivy League play-in contest and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.

In so doing, the Tigers snapped an eight-game losing streak to the hated Quakers and made it to the national tournament for the first time since 2001.

Afterward, an exuberant Johnson had a broad grin plastered to his face as he celebrated with a throng of well-wishers in a corner of Stabler Arena. Within a week, Princeton was to shock the nation with its stunning upset of defending champion UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Last Sunday, Johnson returned to Stabler Arena as the rookie head coach of Princeton and the team ended the afternoon making history in its game with Lehigh.

Unfortunately, it was history of a negative kind as the Tigers fell 68-49 to the Mountain Hawks to suffer its 11th straight loss, setting a record for the longest losing streak in program history, breaking the mark for futility set in 1947 and 1908.

The defeat was Princeton’s first to Lehigh since the 1929-30 campaign, snapping its 23-game winning streak in the series.

In a glum post-game media conference, Johnson acknowledged how far the program has fallen from the dizzying heights of that night in 1996.

“I feel bad; I realize what our standards and expectations are here at Princeton,” said Johnson, whose team fell to 2-11 with the loss to Lehigh. “I apologize; I know that some of our fans and alums can be disappointed.”

The Tigers produced a sorry performance on Sunday, falling behind 41-19 by halftime and trailing by 59-32 with 6:52 left in the game. Princeton never got closer than 18 points in a game which left the crowd of 1,375 sitting on its hands.

Johnson acknowledged that the Tigers are suffering from inconsistency at both ends of the court.

“I think we have struggled consistently to score; that’s been readily apparent,” said Johnson, whose team shot 37.3 percent from the field against Lehigh on 19-of-51 shooting.

“At stretches, we have played well defensively. I really believe that; I’ve seen enough tape to see that. We can’t maintain that effort for 40 minutes. When you struggle to score and you aren’t guarding, you aren’t helping yourself.”

In order to help Princeton find a winning formula, Johnson plans to continue tinkering with his rotation.

“At the end of the day, the joy of coaching is trying to put your players in the best position to be successful,” said Johnson, who started senior guard Kevin Steuerer on Sunday for the first time this season.

“We are trying that; we are working with the guys. We are trying different schemes with different personnel.”

In Johnson’s view, lack of effort is not the problem for his club. “They are putting out as much as they can,” asserted Johnson.

“I think the competition is good in practice; it’s very good and very healthy. I can promise you that’s the way the team is going to be the rest of the season. Practice is the guide to how we perform in games; we need to see it in practice first.

In the loss at Lehigh, sophomore reserve forward Nick Lake competed well, scoring eight points and snaring four rebounds in 24 minutes of work off the bench.

“That’s everyday, all day, it doesn’t matter, that’s who he is,” said Johnson referring to the 6’6, 200-pound Lake.

“He works hard. I hope he won’t stop working hard now that I am embarrassing him because we need it. I’ve meant what I’ve said about competing and Nick does that every time out.”

Princeton also got a nice effort from freshman forward Kareem Maddox, who had eight points and three rebounds and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week.

The Tigers’ next opportunity to break their losing streak will come on January 9 when they host Lafayette. While Johnson would love to see his team come through with a victory against the 8-6 Leopards, he knows that restoring the program’s winning tradition is a long-term process.

“We’re trying to make the right steps everyday toward getting back to where we want to be,” said Johnson.

“If we were to win today, that wouldn’t mean we were going to win on Wednesday. It’s about everyday committing ourselves to do the little things that will sustain winning.”

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