December 29, 2021

PU Men’s Hoops Routs Kean in Return From Exams As it Tunes Up for Ivy League Opener at Harvard

MAX EFFORT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Max Johns guards a foe in a game earlier this season. Last week, senior guard Johns scored a career-high 13 points in 13 minutes off the bench to help Princeton defeat Kean University 100-59. The Tigers, who improved to 10-3 with the win in the December 21 contest, are slated to play at Harvard on January 2 to start Ivy League action. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After finishing fall semester exams last week, the Princeton University men’s basketball team passed its final test before starting Ivy League play with flying colors.

Hosting Division III foe Kean University on December 21, Princeton rolled to a 100-59 win at Jadwin Gym as it improved to 10-3.

“It is an important game for us to play coming out of exams,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, whose team hit the 100-point mark for the first time in a game that ended in regulation since its 108-46 victory over Rowan College on November 25, 2016.

“I think Kean is a really well coached team. I am pleased that we are 10-3 wrapping it up. We know exactly where we need to focus. We have got a really tough test coming out of break when we play at Harvard.”

With Princeton slated to play at Harvard on January 2 to start Ivy action, Henderson is expecting some tough challenges in league play.

“The league is good,” said Henderson. “We are watching everyone very closely. I think it is going to be a rock fight.”

Senior guard Max Johns, who scored a career-high 13 points in 13 minutes off the bench against Kean, saw the game as good tune up for the Ivy opener.

“It was good to play someone else and show off what we are good at,” said Johns, a 6’4, 205-pound native of Hugh Point, N.C., who is averaging 3.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 13 appearances this season off the bench.

“I think it is also good to identify what we need to work on and that game was good for that. Defensively, me personally but the team in general probably needs to do a better job of being in position early and not fouling.”

In the view of sophomore guard Matt Allocco, the Tigers are making progress.

“I think day by day we come in with the mentality that we are just going to get a little better each day,” said Allocco, who had five points, two rebounds, and two assists against Kean.

“We come in and compete. We have some focuses on active hands, running into gaps, and staying in front of the ball. We are only going to continue to improve.”

While Henderson appreciates the way Johns is competing, he wants to see a greater focus at the defensive end.

“I thought Max played really well on offense and I was telling him and the rest of the team that our concerns are on the defensive end,” said Henderson.

“I have high expectations for Max and his teammates. We can be a really good defensive team. I believe in them, so it is time for us to take that next step. We have an identity, we want to keep chopping at it and make it sharper.”

Allocco, who is in his first college campaign, is emerging as a key defender for the Tigers.

“He had a key steal in the UMBC game that we needed; we were down 68-66 and there was 8 minutes left,” said Henderson.

“We have some a long way since we opened  up against Rutgers Camden. It feels like a really different team and that is a really good thing. I wasn’t sure how this would go. I am very pleased with where we are but it is just the beginning. Now the real stuff starts.”

Allocco, for his part, is primed for the stuff that awaits in Ivy play.

“I am excited, I can’t wait,” said Allocco, a 6’4, 200-pound native of Hilliard, Ohio who is averaging 2.4 points and 1.7 rebounds in 13 games this season off the bench.

“We’ve played in front of some good crowds, but once it gets into the Ivy League, I am excited to get into those environments. It should be fun.”

In the view of the battle-tested Johns, attention to detail will be key to succeeding in those competitive environments.

“Every team can beat every other team so you have to be locked in every game and every possession,” said Johns.

“It starts before the game starts, it starts on Monday and Tuesday when you are playing Saturday. We just have to be really focused on details about the scout, about the things that we want to do. This is it for me, it is all or nothing.”

Henderson, for his part, is looking for his players to exhibit a toughness and sense of urgency as they face the gauntlet of Ivy rivals.

“I maintain that the best teams in the league tend to guard, they win on the road, and they take care of business at home,” said Henderson.

“We have done a good job valuing the ball. That has got to be key for us, especially as we go on the road. We have a lot of nice pieces but that is not enough. There is an edge that needs to develop as we get into the league. I think the sign of a good team is also when we get hit in the face, we talk about it and we move on.”