November 20, 2019

Morales Provides a Spark Off the Bench But Tiger Men’s Hoops Falls to Lafayette

BOOSTING MORALE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jose Morales dribbles up the court in a game last winter. Last Wednesday, senior guard Morales, a former Hun School standout, scored eight points in 19 minutes off the bench, but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 72-65 to Lafayette. Princeton, now 0-3, plays at Indiana on November 20 before hosting Arizona State on November 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the Princeton University men’s basketball team trailing Lafayette 52-34 early in the second half last Wednesday in its home opener at Jadwin Gym, Jose Morales came off the bench looking to give the Tigers a lift.

“It was just, be a spark offensively and defensively, whatever we really needed,” said Morales, a native or Miramar, Fla. who starred in a postgraduate season at the Hun School. “I felt like we just came out a little flat.”

With the scrappy 5’9 Morales throwing his body around at both ends of the court, Princeton went on an 18-7 run to narrow the gap to 59-52. But in the end, Lafayette held on for a 72-65 win as the Tigers dropped to 0-3.

In reflecting on the defeat to the Leopards, Morales acknowledged that Princeton is a work in progress.

“We are a young team, we don’t understand exactly how hard it is to win yet,” said Morales, who ended up with eight points, four rebounds, and two steals in 19 minutes off the bench.

“We are starting to figure it out. We have got some guys out there who can really play.”

As one of only three seniors on Princeton along with Richmond Aririguzoh and Will Gladson, Morales is looking to impart some wisdom to the team’s younger players.

“I am trying to show them everyday how hard it is, what it means to get down and dirty and go get those boards,” said Morales, who is averaging 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds this season.

“I am 5’9 so I can’t really get boards; I try to get those loose balls and tell them to get your hand in there. There is only so much we can say. Once the lights turn on and the game starts, it is a different atmosphere.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson credited Lafayette with producing some lights out play.

“Lafayette played a really good game, they were very difficult to guard,” said Henderson of the Leopards, who went 9-of-11 from three-point range in the first half and ended up shooting 52 percent overall from the floor (26-of-50) on the evening.

“We got beat in almost every single aspect of the game. We fought to get back into in the second half. I think we ran out of gas there at the end, trying to get back into the game. It is really hard to come back and win. The score is close, the game wasn’t close.”

Henderson credited Morales with helping Princeton fight back against Lafayette.

“Jose is terrific; I was clutching his back as he was going into the game, praying for a Jose miracle and he gave it to us,” said Henderson. “He knew exactly what we needed him to do and be.”

As the Tigers look to get on the winning track, Henderson will be depending on Morales and his classmates to take a lead role.

“How they talk to their teammates right now and how we respond as a group is the most important thing,” said Henderson, who got a team-high 19 points from Aririguzoh in the loss with sophomores Drew Friberg and Jaelin Llewellyn tallying 16 and 13, respectively.

“I really believe in the group. Between these two guys and Will, we have some really good high level leadership. Now it is going to be a challenge, not just for me, but for everybody.”

Tightening things up at the defensive end is a key challenge for the Tigers as they have given up 82.7 points a game in their three losses.

“We are giving up way too many easy baskets in these first three games,” said Henderson. “It is what is our identity defensively, we have to develop that.”

With Princeton playing at Indiana on November 20 before hosting Arizona State on November 26, Henderson will be looking for his players to develop a toughness and unity on the court.

“I am optimistic, but I know it is going to be really hard,” added Henderson.

“As long as we are competing and playing fearless, which we didn’t do today, we will be even better. That is on me, we have a lot of work to do. This is why basketball is fun and why it is hard. I agree with what Jose said, it is hard to win. Five guys together, playing together, committing to each other, that is what I am looking for because that is how we are going to win games in the league.”

Morales, for his part, is seeing a commitment to improvement from the team. “That is why we schedule the way we do,” said Morales. “We want to play the best because we feel we can compete with the best. We are learning along the way and we are just getting better.”