Can Princeton, down two starters, halt Monmouth's winning streak?
|Princeton coach Mitch Henderson. (John Blaine Photo)|
Time for Plan C.
A season with so much expectation is still just nine games old, yet Princeton has been backed into a corner by season-ending injuries to starting forwards Hans Brase and Henry Caruso.
Can the wounded Tigers (4-5) come out swinging on Tuesday night when they travel to West Long Branch for an in-state clash against red-hot Monmouth (7 p.m., OceanFirst Bank Center, ESPN3, WPRB 103.3 FM)?
The Hawks (9-2) have won a program-record eight straight games are coming off a victory at Memphis, their sixth win over a high-major program in the last two seasons. Monmouth also counts UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Rutgers among its victims.
“I still have confidence in the group,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “Maybe we were thinking too much about who wasn’t here. It’s still a basketball game. They still have to play.”
It’s not as though the Tigers don’t have capable players. The starting lineup still features three seniors who were a huge part of the team that won 22 games a year ago and is still arguably the favorite in the Ivy League.
Meanwhile, sophomore Devin Cannady has already assumed the starting point guard role, relegating the regressing Amir Bell to the bench, while Myles Stephens, another sophomore, will take Caruso’s place in the lineup.
Last season’s team played without Brase, so when he went down with a right knee injury on Nov. 29 against VCU, filling that void with essentially the same roster, just a year older, seemed do-able. But replacing Caruso’s 15 points and 6.2 rebounds will prove challenging.
In a 76-68 loss to St. Joseph’s last time out, the Tigers were out-rebounded, 58-34, including 19 on the offensive glass.
“We just got to be tougher,” said Stephens, a promising talent, who did his best in place of Caruso, scoring 12 points and grabbing six boards in his first career start. “We know we’re undersized.”
Monmouth averages 11.8 offensive rebounds per game, but the Hawks’ real strength lies in its backcourt trio of Justin Robinson, Micah Seaborn and Je’lon Hornbeak.
Robinson, the 5-foot-8 point guard dynamo, averages 16.6 points and 5.1 assist per contest. With him pulling the strings, Monmouth shoots the 3-pointer at a 36.4 percent clip and takes just over 25 per game.
Considering the Hawks score 78.9 points per game and the Tigers check in at 72.2, while also averaging 10-for-28 from long range, this has the potential to be a back-and-forth contest.
Steven Cook’s 13.4 points tops the Princeton lineup, but Cannady, who is yet to have a breakout game since assuming the starting point guard role, should rise to the challenge.
Cannady is shooing 32.5 percent (14-for-43) since taking over during the team’s trip to Hawaii, but that may be attributed to his expanded responsibility.
“I think I need to keep working on being an extension of coach on the court,” he said. “Finding my looks within the offense, (while) helping the team get the best shots. We’re focusing on being solid defensively, for me, I’m just in the game four minutes earlier and I’m trying to get us off to a good start.”
Princeton leads the all-time series 11-4, although this is the first meeting between the two schools since a 64-61 Tigers victory in 2010.