PRINCETON — Mitch Henderson is the first to tell you his team has
earned its reputation as not being able to close out games.
Entering play Saturday night, Princeton had held the lead at
halftime in eight of its 10 contests, yet was sitting two games under
the .500 mark.
Well, a perfect week later and the Tigers are starting to look like the team that was picked to win the Ivy League.
Ian Hummer and Denton Koon both finished with 17 points, helping
Princeton pull away from Bucknell for a 79-67 victory at Jadwin Gym.
The Bison came in riding a six-game win streak and were ranked No. 5 in the CollegeInsider Mid-Major poll.
“We beat a good Bucknell team,” Hummer said. “All the games where we
didn’t get blown out, we were right there. We led every first half and
we were with them until the end when we faltered a little bit. This was
the first game we put a full 40 minutes together.”
The Tigers improved to 5-6, while Bucknell fell to 11-2.
Princeton did its damage from the 3-point line, connecting on 11 of
25 — six in the second half. Clay Wilson and T.J. Bray hit three each.
Wilson and Bray knocked down 3s on consecutive possessions, giving
the Tigers a 53-43 lead, and some breathing room, with 8:45 remaining.
“I’ve always felt like, if you take 30 threes and they are really
good shots from the guys that can make them, that’s what we need to do,”
Henderson said. “I thought every one was really good.”
They pushed the advantage to 15 after Bray hit a 3-pointer and Hummer made 1 of 2 free throws with 5:57 left.
Then did what has been a struggle until this week.
Closed the game out by making 13 of 15 free throws after Bucknell elected to begin fouling for the final 2:54.
“They are trying to establish their identity with a new core,” said
Bison coach Dave Paulsen, admitting his team looked a bit leggy playing
for the fourth time in eight days, “and unfortunately we may have helped
them find that identity tonight.”
Mike Muscala led Bucknell with 17 points, Joe Willman had 15 and Cameron Ayers added 14.
Muscala, a 6-foot-11 senior getting significant buzz from NBA scouts,
came in averaging 18.8 points per game and 22.4 in five December
But Princeton left the big man feeling frustrated.
Hans Brase, Brendan Connolly and Hummer combined to limit Muscala’s
touches, and when he did catch it on the block, they made him work for
Muscala shot 5 of 11, but was forced to earn his points at the
free-throw line. He went to the stripe 11 times, making seven, as Brase,
Connolly and Hummer used up 10 fouls against him.
“I played soft at times tonight,” Muscala said.
Hummer fouled out with 1:31 remaining and Brase picked up his third
with 6:11 left in the first half, limiting him to 19 minutes.
Three other Princeton players also reached double figures.
Brase scored 14 points, Bray added 11 and Mack Darrow — starting in place of the injured Will Barrett — had 10.
“I like the balance we have,” Hummer said. “If we need defense, we
have guys for that. If we need shooting, we have guys for that. We have a
well-rounded team and I think it showed tonight.”
Both teams shot it well in the first half.
The Bison scored the first seven points before the Tigers came back with 10 straight to take the lead.
The lead changed hands three times in a tightly contested opening 20
minutes in which the largest advantage was seven after Bucknell started
7-0. The last of those came after back-to-back 3-pointes by Koon (nine
first-half points) and Bray, giving Princeton a 33-30 advantage at the
Brase and Connolly limited Muscala to three points in the first half.
Willman and Ayers picked up the slack for the Bison, combining for 19 of their 30 points.
“After the Fordham loss, there was a restlessness,” Henderson said.
“The team was very surly on Monday and it helped us. It focused to the
point where they responded very nicely.”
NOTES: Princeton played without forward Will Barrett. The junior
picked up a thigh injury late in the second half of Thursday night’s win
over Rider. … The teams combined for 11 turnovers — four by Princeton
and seven by Bucknell.