It certainly was not the prettiest game, but the Tigers found a way to get it done late against Penn, something they’ve struggled mightily with over the course of this season’s Ivy League schedule. Princeton (20-8 overall, 8-6 Ivy League) hung on for a 70-65 win over the Quakers (8-20, 5-9), despite being narrowly outshot. The win gave the team its fifth straight win, part of its third 20-win season in the last four years and a tie for third place in the league.
“I’m proud of being coach of a team that had some reasons to pack it in in early February,” head coach Mitch Henderson said, referencing his team’s 0-4 start to conference play. “It’s a testament to the [seniors] sitting next to me. We weren’t happy about the way the season turned out, but we finished up strong.”
Princeton held a four point lead several times in the first half, but poor shooting prevented it from pulling away. Penn instead closed the half on a 7-2 run to take a 31-29 lead into the break. Center Darien Nelson-Henry had 12 points for the Quakers on six-of-eight shooting, using his extra 30 pounds and two inches to bully sophomore forward Hans Brase in the post. Senior captain T.J. Bray, playing the last home game of his career, had six rebounds at the half, just two away from his season-high.
The Tigers stalled a bit coming out of the locker room, but Penn was unable to obtain a lead of more than six points, which it held four times in the first seven minutes. A two minute 9-0 run, courtesy of the Tiger underclassmen, gave Princeton a 47-44 lead it would not cough up. The Tigers shot close to 50 percent for the last twelve minutes and the lead grew to as many as nine points with under a minute to play. Penn seniors guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright and forward Fran Dougherty, playing their last half in the red and blue, poured in 16 and 9 points, respectively, down the stretch, but it was not enough to accomplish the season sweep of Princeton.
The Tigers shot a commendable 47.8 percent from the field in the second half, though Penn was right behind with 46.4 percent. In a huge turnaround from the loss at the Palestra two months ago, Princeton actually outrebounded the Quakers 34-30. Penn, however, partially solved its turnover woes from that first meeting and the year as a whole, committing 11. Dougherty finished with 20 points and nine rebounds and spoke after the game about how much the Penn experience has meant to him, despite not achieving the win-loss record he had hoped for. It might be the final games for the seniors on both teams, as Princeton is undecided as to whether or not it will accept any postseason bids. As a top-120 RPI team, the Tigers would almost certainly receive an invitation to either the CBI or CIT tournaments, although they did decline the invitation last year.
Bray came into the game needing 23 points to both reach the 1,000 career points mark and win the Ivy League scoring title. He played a good game, shooting six-of-11 and grabbing seven boards, but ultimately fell short with 18 points. It did not seem to bother the humble captain.
“We got our 20th win. Team success is much more important to me than individual success,” Bray said. “It’s a team game, not an individual one, so I can’t complain about that.”
Regardless, he has had one of the best seasons by a Princeton player ever, especially with regards to his efficiency. He has ranked among the top few players in the country in points per shot all year. He is definitely a candidate for Ivy League Player of the Year, although Justin Sears of Yale and Alex Rosenberg of Columbia have strong cases as well.