Men sweep Cornell and Columbia on the road, ensure .500 record in conference
If only the Tigers could have played this well the entire conference season. Princeton (19-8 overall, 7-6 Ivy League) played two of its best games of the season this weekend with wins over Cornell and Columbia. Playing in Ithaca Friday night, the Tigers turned in their best shooting performance in a 91-51 rout of the Big Red (2-26, 1-13). In a crucial matchup the following night, they got revenge for Columbia’s (19-12, 8-6) first win at Jadwin Gymnasium in 21 years with their own 74-64 victory in New York City.
Princeton’s win over Cornell set a season best for points scored in a game and was the widest margin of victory for the Tigers in an Ivy League game since they beat the same team in the same gym in 1991. Princeton scored the first 25 points of the contest, and the margin was never fewer than 14 points after that. The team shot 64.2 percent overall, its best rate in two years. Even more impressive was the 14 for 23 performance from three, by far a season’s best. The Tigers outrebounded the Big Red 33-26 and notched 23 assists, another season high. Senior guard and captain T.J. Bray tied senior forward Will Barrett with a game-high 21 points. Barrett shot a perfect eight for eight overall, making him just the fourth Tiger ever to record a perfect shooting night with at least eight attempts. The outburst also snapped an eight game streak of scoring less than his season average. Freshman guard Spencer Weisz grabbed a career high 12 boards, most in a single game by anyone this year. Junior guard Clay Wilson dropped a career high 16 points and added three assists.
“Open shots and moving the ball — I think we did a good job of that tonight,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said. “Guys were sharing the ball from the very beginning of the game. We’ve been a good shooting team, I just haven’t seen the ball go in as much lately.”
The win against Columbia gives Princeton a chance to tie the Lions for third place in the Ivy League and also significantly betters its postseason chances. The Tigers jumped out to a 10-point lead after 11 minutes only to see it cut to one five minutes later. They rallied back, though, and took a 32-24 advantage into the locker room. The score was an eerily similar 35-27 at the half a month ago in Princeton, before a second half letdown gave Columbia the win. This time, the Lions cut the lead to five three times in the first five minutes, before Princeton went on an eight-point run that Columbia could never make back. The last 12 minutes of the game were played exceptionally close, with neither team holding more than a five point advantage over the other during that interval.
Bray, as he is apt to do, scored 15 points in the last 15 minutes to guide his team to victory. He did not turn the ball over all game, even as the Lions implemented a full-court press in the last few minutes. He and the rest of the Tigers were brilliant all night, running plays to perfection and finding passing lanes the Columbia defense did not even know existed. Bray ended up with 25, one shy of his career high, on 8-12 shooting with three steals. More importantly, he thoroughly outplayed Columbia’s forward and leading scorer Alex Rosenberg, keeping him to 25 percent shooting and scoring at will on offense. Bray is now a mere .2 points per game down on Rosenberg and Yale’s Justin Sears in the Ivy League scoring race. A 23-point performance against Penn on Tuesday will give him the crown, Princeton’s first in over 40 years! It’ll also make him part of the program’s 1,000 career point club, alongside legends like Bill Bradley ’65, Ian Hummer ’13, Kit Mueller ’91, Brian Taylor ’84 and Steve Goodrich ’98.
“When anybody that gets an opportunity to do something special like score 1,000 points and be recognized by his peers — that’s important to me,” Henderson said. “But what’s far more important is the kind of teammate that T.J. is, how he makes his teammates better, how he shows up for practice every day. You can point to him on any given day and just say, ‘Do it like he does it.’”
The statistics ended up around Princeton’s season average for most categories, including the 45.3 percent shooting overall, 35.3 percent from deep, 36 rebounds, 15 assists, 34 rebounds allowed and 42.4 percent shooting allowed. The win, however, was anything but normal. Columbia is a good team, ranked just outside the top 100 in most computer ratings. Beating them by double digits on their own floor is certainly Princeton’s biggest accomplishment of 2014.
“We just ran the same stuff they did, except ours is a little faster, a little harder, and we’ve been doing it for a long time, so it’s nice to see it pay off,” said Wilson, whose 16 points on 6-7 shooting equaled his career best from the previous night.
If the team played this well for every single league game, it would easily handle every team not named Harvard and quite possibly steal a game from the Crimson. In any case, we’ll probably get to enjoy the Tigers some more in either the CBI or CIT postseason tournaments, where they will be serious threats for the title. But before any of that happens, Princeton will finish the regular season tomorrow night at 8 p.m. at Jadwin. It will be the last home game for the senior class, so take a quick study break and make it a special night for the players that helped Princeton win 68 percent of its games these last four seasons!
Women easily handle Cornell and Columbia to set up winner take all finale against Penn
Princeton took care of business this weekend with two comfortable victories to ensure at least second place in the league and an appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Playing Cornell at Jadwin on Friday, the Tigers (20-7 overall, 11-2 Ivy League) never trailed en route to a 69-46 win. The next night saw them absolutely destroy Columbia 92-48. Penn beat the same teams this weekend and shares Princeton’s league lead. The two teams meet at Jadwin Tuesday night, with the winner advancing to the NCAA tournament.
When asked how she keeps her team from thinking too far ahead, head coach Courtney Banghart said, “It’s easier for me since I’m not smart enough to retain more than one game at a time. I just lean on my upperclassmen for that. Our senior captains are responsible for what happens on the floor on game day, and they’ve done a really good job of keeping the team focused on a night to night basis.”
Princeton scored eight straight to open the game against Cornell (14-14, 6-8), and the lead left single digits for good just six minutes in. The Tigers played some of their best defense of the season in the first half, allowing the Big Red just 17 points on pitiful 20.8 percent shooting. It was that early defense that made the difference, as Princeton only outscored Cornell by three points in the second half and shot a below average 40 percent from the field for the game. The Tigers held +6 and +14 turnover and rebounding margins, respectively. Sophomore forward Alex Wheatley put up a game-high 14 points and three blocks. Senior guard and co-captain Nicole Hung doubled her previous season best with 12 points and added more season bests with five rebounds, two assists and two steals, in one of her last games ever at Jadwin.
“[This is] the best they’ve played defensively as a unit,” Banghart said about her squad. “Cornell runs a lot of scripted stuff, so you have to be able to defend as a fivesome, and that’s what we did. We had a lot of people help us out tonight.”
Columbia (6-22, 3-11) had not known victory in its 11 games against Princeton since 2009 and, as the second worst team in the league, had little hope of hanging with the Tigers. It took about five minutes for Princeton to heat up, before an 8-0 run cracked the game open for good. The score was 46-22 at the half behind sophomore Michelle Miller’s 13 points. Unlike the previous night, there was no letting up in this one, as the team rolled to its highest margin of victory this year. The 58 rebounds were Princeton’s most in at least three years, including 21 offensive boards, as many as Columbia had defensively. The Tigers shot 48.6 percent overall, while holding the Lions to 29.8 percent. Four of them reached double-digit scoring and four had at least eight rebounds. Senior cocaptain Kristen Helmstetter was in both groups, with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore forward Annie Tarakchian was nearly her equal with 14 points and eight boards.
Penn has obviously been quite good this year, as its overall and conference records would suggest. The Quakers have not, however, been nearly as dominant as the Tigers in league play. Some of it is due to their slow pace, but the bottom line is that Penn outscores its league opponents by ten points a game, while Princeton has outscored its Ancient Eight competitors by nearly 20. The Quakers have a pretty mediocre offense, scoring just 64 points per game on 40.2 percent shooting. They shoot well from beyond the arc, leading the league at 37.1 percent, but take the third fewest threes of any team. Where Penn shines, though, is on defense. Here it is among the country’s best with 53.4 points allowed per game on 32.9 percent shooting. The Quakers also hold slight rebounding and turnover advantages relative to their opponents. They are led by the highest scoring trio in the league of guard Alyssa Baron, center Sydney Stipanovich and forward Kara Bonenberger, who each average more than 11 points per game. The senior captain Baron is third in the conference at 15.3 points and 3.7 assists per game, while the rookie Stipanovich is second in rebounding at 9.1 boards per contest and an incredible sixth in the country at 3.6 blocks per game. Do not let the docile mascot fool you — these Quakers have torn teams apart, including a 67-38 evisceration of 21-7 Harvard. They’ll visit Jadwin at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday night to try and stop Princeton’s streak of four straight conference crowns.