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Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Efforts -- Princeton Men's Basketball

On Friday night, Princeton's men's team put on a clinic on ESPNU, thrashing Yale, 82-58. The Tigers defended aggressively, had 25 assists and shot 13-19 from behind the arc. They also executed numerous backdoor baskets and made the Bulldogs work for every shot. Among the shooting stars for the Tigers was their second-leading scorer Dan Mavriades, who has a great touch from beyond the arc and had 20 points (5 Tigers scored 3-point field goals, including Mavriades (4-7 from behind the arc) and sophomore forward Patrick Saunders, who shot 4-5 from behind the arc and finished with 14 points).

Based on that peformance, the Tigers looked invincible going into Saturday night's contest against a Brown team that beat Penn at the Palestra on Friday night.

A Brown team that was 7th in the Ivies going into the game, 8-17 overall and 2-6 in the league.

So, I went to Jadwin Gym figuring on a relaxing evening with great defense, layups arising from backdoor plays and some good three-point shooting. I got the first two -- from the Brown Bears, and not much of the above from the Princeton Tigers. Brown upset Princeton, 57-54, overcoming a 30-24 halftime deficit.

Brown both outcoached and outplayed Princeton. Brown's game plan was simple -- take away shots from the perimeter for the most part (except to permit guard Marcus Schroeder, a heady Tiger player but not a great shooter, going 2-9 from behind the arc) and force the Tigers to do something else with the ball. While Schroeder had 17 points (he was the only Tiger -- save some moments from forward Kareem Maddox -- who had anything going on Saturday night), the Tigers struggled mightly to solve Brown's defense. They got the ball inside to a combination of post players -- Pawel Buczek, Zach Finley and Ian Hummer -- but they couldn't do much with it. Hummer and Finley converted a few baskets and showed some fire, but the two seniors -- Finley and Buczek -- overall had bad games at both ends. Mavriades (2-8 from behind the arc) and Douglas Davis, Princeton's exciting sophomore lead guard, had trouble getting open for good shots on a consistent basis. Put differently, the Tigers typically won't win when Schroeder takes 16 shots in a game or when, in any game, he takes only 1 less shot than Mavriades and Davis combined (which is what happened last night). Additionally, whatever 3-point attempts the Tigers got were not easy looks.

So, Brown's defensive game plan was good, and the Bears -- a physical team -- executed well. But where Princeton broke down even more was on the defensive end. Sure, if you look from a distance you can say that giving up "only" 57 points wasn't too bad, but many of those points were from five feet or less, with many being layups off of excellent passing and the physical play of Brown's senior forward Matt Mullery, who finished with 15, and forwards Peter Sullivan (13) and Tucker Halpern (12). Brown outplayed Princeton when Brown had the ball, because from my vantage point Princeton's help defense was sporadic at best and non-existent at its worst. Princeton has plenty of size, but they didn't use it often enough to help out when someone got open inside. And that killed the Tigers -- they gave up way too many easy baskets and fouled too often (21 fouls to Brown's 13). Brown converted 18 of 19 free throw attempts -- and that was the ball game.

On Friday night, Princeton had 25 assists, 12 turnovers and shot 13-19 from behind the arc.

On Saturday night, Princeton had 6 assists, 13 turnovers and shot 6-25 from behind the arc.


The Tigers, at 16-7, 7-2 in the Ivies, are no longer tied with Cornell for first place, but for them this remains a very good season and one which shows that their future is looking up. Last night's loss is a big disappointment for them, but it should serve as a reminder that they still have some ground to cover to become the elite Ivy team, and it should serve as a motivator that despite whatever they do on a given night, they'll have to come out and earn it even more on the following night.

Because that's how you become the elite team in the Ivies -- or any league for that matter.

The Ivy is a tough league to play in because teams play back-to-back games on weekends. It's hard to get up two nights in a row -- hard to keep your momentum if you won big and hard to get re-focused if you lost a tough defeat the night before. Remember, we're dealing with late teenagers and young adults here, and their focus and emotions -- especially at academically challenging schools -- are all over the place. So Brown's achievement is very noteworthy, because I doubt that there have been more than only a handful of times in the school's history where Brown has defeated Penn and Princeton on the road in the same weekend. Hats off to Coach Jesse Agel and the Brown squad for a job well done. By the way they played, you wouldn't have known that Brown was 8-17 going into the weekend and in second-to-last place in the Ivies.

The Princeton Tigers learned a painful lesson last night, but one that should serve them well in the upcoming years.


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