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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Princeton Weekend Roundup: Cornell and Columbia


Friday: Princeton 76, Cornell 59
Saturday: Princeton 72, Columbia 66

THE GOOD:
Finding the hot hand(s): Early in the season, there was some question about whether a secondary scorer would emerge behind Ian Hummer. That point seems almost moot now, as its clear that the Tigers have at least three other viable options that can create their own offense in T.J. Bray (9 vs. Cornell, 17 vs. Columbia), Denton Koon (22, 12) and Will Barrett (14, 10). Princeton did a good job not forcing the ball into Hummer’s hands (He had 22 and 16) but letting its points come within the flow of the offense.

Reacting to pressure, both kinds: After a bit of a shaky start against the Cornell press, the Tigers were able to reestablish control of the game, mostly by throwing the ball down low to Hummer. When the two teams came back out after the half, the once-electric Big Red pressure looked a bit deflated, and the Tigers had no trouble taking advantage with a series of transition dunks. In addition to ball pressure, Princeton also did a nice job responding to the pressure of two must-win games. This brings me to my next point.

Ian Hummer, emotional leader: Hummer was perhaps as visibly emotional as he’s been all season in the first half against Cornell, when it looked like Princeton was going to have a tough time against the Big Red’s speed. Hummer took control of the game, scoring 18 of his 22 points in the Tigers first-half comeback. Against Columbia, Hummer took the temperature of the game and realized he wasn’t shooting as well as some of his teammates, so instead he went into facilitator mode with seven assists and zero turnovers.

Guards in the low post: When your starting backcourt is the 6’5” Bray and 6’8” Koon, you are going to have a lot of size mismatches. The Tigers did a nice job over the weekend of taking advantage of the smaller Cornell and Columbia backcourts by posting their two guards, who both showed a solid ability to finish inside. This is an advantage of playing Hans Brase instead of Brendan Connolly, because Brase can step outside and spread the floor while Connolly needs to be near the rim to be effective.

Finishing strong: Remember that team that couldn’t hold on to second half leads? They were nowhere to be found this weekend, replaced by a team that seemed to grow stronger as the two games progressed. Princeton outscored its opponent in both second periods, blowing out Cornell 41-29 and making a series of clutch baskets late to edge Columbia 35-30.

THE BAD:
Defending dribble penetration: The Tigers are big, but they aren’t quick, and the nearly cost them against Columbia. Though the Lions primary scorer Brian Barbour was held in check with just 6 points, freshman Maodo Lo was way quicker than anyone Princeton could put in front of him, finishing with 16 points. With all that length, the Tigers still need to shore up their help-side defense to prevent explosive guards like Lo from getting to the rim.

Hans Brase against Columbia: Though he finished with 8 rebounds in just 19 minutes, Brase struggled on the defensive end and was loose with the ball offensively, committing three turnovers. That prompted coach Mitch Henderson to go with Connolly down the stretch, mainly for his near seven-feet of defensive presence. While the matchup with Columbia center Mark Cisco was probably a better one for Connolly, Princeton’s season really turned around after Brase was put into the starting lineup. At this point, it’s hard to imagine Henderson going back to Connolly much (he played just one minute against Cornell) so the Tigers need Brase’s performance against the Lions to be an aberration an not a new norm.

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