The men’s basketball team faced their final opponent before beginning Ivy League play on Saturday, traveling to Lynchburg, Va., to defeat Liberty 80-74.
It was the last of the Tigers’ (11-2) five games over winter break in preparation for the start of Ivy competition. The Tigers went 4-1 during this stretch, including an overtime thriller in which they defeated Penn State 81-79 in State College. They then split the trip to Las Vegas, beating Pacific 83-58 but dropping their second game of the season 93-79 to Portland right before Christmas. The Tigers returned home to close out 2013 against Kent State with a 73-68 win and finished up break with their road victory over Liberty (6-9).
As has been the case throughout the season, the Tigers’ offense excelled from beyond the arc, hitting seven three-pointers in the first half and allowing them to go on a 15-0 run in less than five minutes that gave them a 10-point lead, their largest of the game. Junior guard Ben Hazel, who had a career-high 18 points on the night, went four for eight from beyond the arc. Senior guard T.J. Bray added another three and had a team-high 24 points.
The Tigers went into the half leading 38-31; however, they struggled coming out in the second half, going 0-10 from beyond the arc to open the half and allowing Liberty to go up 57-50 more than 10 minutes in. Hazel led the comeback, scoring 10 straight points, and the Tigers tied the game 57-57. From that point on, Princeton and Liberty traded baskets until the Tigers pulled away in the final two minutes.
The Tigers have now won 21 straight games when leading at the half. Sophomore forward Hans Brase led the team in rebounds with six on the night — though the Tigers were still out-rebounded 29-26 — and Bray and freshman forward Spencer Weisz each added four assists.
Bray tied Marcus Schroeder ’10 for sixth place on Princeton’s career assist list at 295 with his five against Kent State. His four against Liberty move him into sole possession of sixth place, just five shy of head coach Mitch Henderson ’98, who remains in fifth place with 304.
As a team, the Tigers set a program record against Pacific, hitting 18 three-pointers against a Division I opponent for the first time in program history. Princeton made 18 or more threes in a single game only one other time, against Division III Ursinus on January 27, 2003, when they nailed 20 from beyond the arc. Bray had four while senior forward Will Barrett, junior guard Clay Wilson and Weisz all contributed three threes in the effort.
The Tigers will travel to Penn to start the Ivy League season Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will be televised on the NBC Sports Network.