January 4, 2017

Showing Growth in 3-Game Winning Streak, Princeton Men’s Hoops Primed for Ivy Opener

FLYING HIGH: Princeton University men’s basketball player Steven Cook flies upcourt in recent action. Last Sunday against visiting Cal Poly, senior star Cook scored a game-high 24 points to help the Tigers prevail 81-52 and post their third straight win. Cook was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. Princeton, now 7-6, opens Ivy play by hosting Penn on January 7. Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University men’s basketball team fell 96-90 at Monmouth on December 20, Mitch Henderson saw that performance as a turning point for the Tigers.

Playing in its second game in the absence of senior star Henry Caruso, who was out due to a toe injury, and who joined Hans Brase in being sidelined for the season, Princeton showed a different look with sophomore Myles Stephens making his second career start.

“It started for us at Monmouth, we didn’t get the result we wanted but Myles showed up in that game and totally put his footprint into the program right away,” said Henderson.

“We had to learn how to win a game on the road against a really good team. We didn’t do that but we jumped out to a really big lead and Myles was a big part of that.”

Two days after that defeat, the Tigers posted a hard-earned 72-70 win at Bucknell and then pulled away to a 77-49 triumph over visiting Hampton last Wednesday.

Last Saturday, Princeton routed Cal Poly 81-52 to extend its winning streak to three in its final tune-up before starting Ivy League play when it hosts Penn on January 7.

“I like the way we have been growing in the last two weeks,” said Henderson. “We are in a stronger and better place than we have ever been.”

The strong play of senior stars Steven Cook and Spencer Weisz has been making a big difference for the Tigers. In the win over Cal Poly, Cook scored a game-high 24 points while Weisz contributed nine points, eight rebounds,
and seven assists.

“I really have to give credit to those two guys, not only playing well but their voices are very strong in and around the program; it is all you can ask for,” said Henderson.

“They both complement each other very well. Steve is let’s go and Spencer sees it behind the scenes, they are very focused on the main goal here.”

For Weisz, who has been on the verge of recording a triple-double several times this season, his all-around contribution is a product of his desire to help the Tigers succeed rather than a concern for piling up stats.

“I am just trying to do whatever I can to help the team go,” said Weisz, a 6’4, 210-pound native of Florham Park, N.J. who is now averaging 10.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game this season. “Those little things obviously help the team win so I try to do that.”

The Tigers helped themselves in the win over Cal Poly by producing a sizzling shooting performance, hitting 56.5 percent from the field (31-of-55), including 56.5 percent from 3-point range (13-of-23).

“When you make shots you feel good and it kind of resonates throughout the team,” added Weisz.

“It just goes to our unselfishness, I think we all complement each other in one way or another. Our willingness to share the ball starts in practice; we work very hard on that and it showed tonight. Making shots cures everything.”

Cook was a major benefactor of the ball movement, matching his career-high with six 3-pointers as he went 6-of-9 from beyond the arc.

“Once the first one goes, you get a little confidence,” said Cook, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for the second time this season.

“Spence hit me every time I was open. My teammates didn’t make any mistakes when they were getting the ball to me so you can’t ask for much more than that.”

Princeton didn’t make many mistakes at either end of the floor, outrebounding Cal Poly 42-21 and holding the Mustangs to 36.4 percent shooting (20-of-55).

“I think it is just paying attention to the details more, I thought the scout was spot on today,” said Cook, a 6’5, 200-pound native of Winnetka, Ill.

“It is not always easy to be able to go out and execute the scout and do everything we plan on doing but I thought we did a great job doing that tonight. I think that is becoming a more consistent thing for us over the past few games.”

Henderson is thrilled with the consistent play he is getting from Cook.

“I am not talking to him about anything; it is just keep doing what you are doing,” said a smiling Henderson of Cook, who is now averaging a team-high 15.8 points a game.

“He is doing great. He is getting to the line, he is
getting rebounds. He is playing like a senior.”

Weisz is also giving Princeton a great contribution in his senior campaign.

“Spencer doesn’t jump that high, he is the least athletic guy in the team and yet he comes up with big rebounds,” said Henderson.

“He really makes other people better. It is just how he sees the game. He really is an extension of what we are asking guys to do out there. I just think he is a vastly underrated player. I think part of that is his approach to the game, he is just really letting the game come to him and playing.”

The Tigers have a big game this Saturday as they host archrival Penn (6-5) in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

“I think Penn is really good, that kid Brodeur (A.J. Brodeur) is having a terrific freshman season,” said Henderson.

“They seem to really know who they are. They have had three terrific wins. We know that the league is very competitive, all the teams in the league seem to be showing signs of understanding what the tournament means to all of us, which is that constant improvement can and should contribute to your development throughout the season. For us, as we start here with Penn; it is still Penn and that is a big game for us.”

In Cook’s view, Princeton is developing nicely as it heads into league play.

“I think we are in a good spot right now, a lot of guys are making huge improvements over the past few weeks,” said Cook.

“Guys like Alec Brennan are contributing now and everybody is understanding their role and I think the approach is really good.”