January 18, 2017

With Stephens Enjoying Breakout Weekend, Princeton Men’s Hoops Sweeps Brown, Yale

UPPING HIS GAME: Princeton University men’s basketball player Myles Stephens goes up for a bucket in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore guard Stephens scored a career-high 19 points to help Princeton defeat Yale 66-58. He was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, now 10-6 overall and 3-0 Ivy League, are currently on exam hiatus and will be back in action when they play at Dartmouth on February 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Myles Stephens established himself as a defensive stopper from the minute he stepped on the court for the Princeton University men’s basketball team last winter in his freshman campaign.

The former Pennington School standout accumulated 69 rebounds, 13 blocks, and 12 steals in 29 appearances off the bench during his debut campaign. It took him longer to get into the flow at the offensive end as he averaged 5.5 points a contest.

Last weekend, Stephens produced a breakout weekend as a scorer, tallying a career-high 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting in a 97-66 rout of visiting Brown on Friday. A day later, he bettered that output, scoring 19 points to help Princeton rally for a 66-58 win over defending Ivy League champion Yale before 2,262 at Jadwin Gym. Stephens was later named Ivy Player of the Week for his outburst.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was not surprised by Stephens’ offensive prowess.

“You are seeing right before your eyes the maturation of what I think he can be,” said Henderson, whose team improved to 10-6 overall and 3-0 Ivy with the win over Yale.

“He is an absolute assassin and the kid is just scratching the surface. He is very hard to guard and now he has developed into an outside shooter. That was the main thing that we really wanted to work on with him.”

Stephens, for his part, hasn’t lost his focus on defense. “Defensively, I try to approach the game the same way whoever I am guarding,” said the 6’5, 205-pound  Stephens, a native of nearby Lawrenceville. “I try to stay in front, my teammates have my back on the defensive end.”

In reflecting on his play at the offensive end, Stephens is feeling a greater comfort level.

“On offense, the confidence is growing and they have confidence in me,” said Stephens, who is now averaging 9.5 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. “I just try the best I can on both ends of the court.”

In Henderson’s view, the win over Yale was a confidence builder, particularly as the Tigers head into a 20-day hiatus for exams.

“Yale is a really good team; that was a hell of a game; the win feels really good because I thought it was very, very hard fought,” said Henderson.

“They are a very good team. We are pleased to be hitting our little break here with a win.”

Trailing 40-35 with 12:17 remaining in regulation, Princeton stepped up at both ends of the floor, going on a 10-0 run to regain momentum.

“I thought there was some carry over from the first half, we were getting such terrific shots but there was a little bit of tension and that is what tends to happen,” said Henderson, whose team went just 1-of-15 from 3-point range in the first half but then made 6-of-9 attempts from beyond the arc over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“I thought we did a good job of going to the basket and we were able to get some stops in that run.”

After Yale responded with a run of its own to go up 53-52, Princeton took control down the stretch with junior guard Amir Bell coming through with a key 3-pointer to give Princeton a 58-53 lead and the Tigers never looked back.

Bell ended the evening with 17 points in 22 minutes of action off the bench, earning the praise of Henderson.

“He is coming to the gym early and leaving late and eventually he is going to break through, “ said Henderson. “I am glad for Amir, he really put us on his back tonight.”

With Princeton pouring in 12 3-pointers in a 97-66 win over Brown on Friday and then finding the range in the second half against Yale, Henderson has no problem with his players continuing to fire away from the perimeter.

“We can shoot at all positions so I think that makes us very difficult to guard so we can’t change too much based on what the other team is doing,” said Henderson.

As Princeton heads into its exam break, Henderson sees no reason to change much.

“It is two weeks straight of exams, it is a funny time but we are used to it,” said Henderson, whose team returns to action with a game at Dartmouth on February 3.

“We will work hard on us, just staying in shape and use the break to take exams and get a clear head and next we are in Hanover.”

Noting that it was a lot easier to deal with finals in the wake of the weekend sweep, Stephens hopes to keep up the good work when the Tigers hit the floor in February.

“I am just trying to get my shots; my teammates are definitely finding me in the places that I like to score,” said Stephens.

“I think defense leads to offense a lot of times and that helps me get going on the offensive end.”