There is certainly no rest for the weary. Fresh off of a disheartening loss to Harvard, the men’s basketball team must start the second half of their home-stand against two of the Ivy League’s best: Yale and Brown. Though out of league contention themselves, the Tigers face off against two teams still in the hunt for the No. 1 spot.
If the previous games are any indicator, this pair of showdowns should prove to be intense. Princeton’s rematch against Yale (14-10 overall, 8-2 Ivy League) should prove to draw particular attention. The Tigers are only two weeks removed from a heartbreaking loss in New Haven, where after gaining an 11-point lead at halftime, they ceded all momentum to the Bulldogs and went on to lose on a go-ahead jumper in overtime.
When asked about the team’s issues after halftime, sophomore forward Hans Brase maintained that they “need to keep running our offense, keep trying to score, [and] keep playing defense. In both those games we played great first halves, and the other team came back in those first four minutes and punched us in the mouth.”
Indeed, such shifts in momentum have been evident in Princeton’s last three losses. Against the league’s current top teams (Harvard, Yale and Columbia) the Tigers gained double-digit advantages in the first half, only to come out cold in the second half on all three occasions.
The Tigers face a Yale team that has been their mirror opposite this season: less than stellar inter-conference play, outstanding performance during Ivy League competition. The Bulldogs come into this game second in the Ivy League, smarting from a recent loss to the streaking Columbia Lions. They look to get strong performances from their combination of forwards, Armani Cotton and Justin Sears. Cotton especially could prove to be a handful for the Tigers, averaging 12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in league play. Moreover, the Tigers continue to underperform in offensive rebounding, ranking dead last in the Ivy League in this category. Sears has also come on strong in the pursuit for the Ivy League crown. He comes into Jadwin Gymnasium averaging 15.8 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game, Yale’s leader in both areas.
Likewise, Brown looks to be no easier an opponent. The Bears (14-10, 6-4) are currently tied with Columbia for third in the league, and are fresh off of a gutsy win against Cornell in overtime. With only four games left in the regular season, they will need every win just to stay alive in the hunt for an NCAA tournament spot. Brown come in this weekend with a budding arsenal of offensive weapons. As in previous contests, one of the key points for the Tigers will be containing Sean McGonagill, who has been one of the conference’s most dangerous scorers all season. Recently, however, he has struggled with his shot, only scoring double digits in one of his last three games. Moreover, Brown could be playing again without their leading rebounder and three-point shooter, Rafael Maia, who missed both of last weekend’s games with an ankle injury.
Despite these misfortunes, other players have been stepping up to fill the void on offense. Cedric Kuakumensah, probably the Ivy League’s best defensive force this season, has asserted himself down the closing stretch of the season. His offensive prowess was on full display at Cornell’s last game, where he manhandled the Big Red for 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 blocks. Moreover, freshman forward Leland King will be a threat to watch out for, as he has ramped up his offensive production since the last time Brown faced Princeton. Despite being out of contention for the Ivy League championship, this is a Tiger team committed to day-by-day excellence. Brase said, despite the season’s setbacks, “the team has no change in attitude. [We’re still] trying to win every game, [still taking] the same approach. But it’s a pride thing now. Teams are still scared of us because they know what we can do.”