By Shayan Rakit
February 11, 2011
After grabbing two huge victories over fellow front-runners Harvard and Penn and commanding hold of first place in the Ivy League this past weekend, the men’s basketball team will leave the friendly confines of Jadwin Gymnasium for its first league road contests of the season. The Tigers (17-4 overall, 5-0 Ivy League) visit Columbia (12-8, 3-3) on Friday and travel to Cornell (5-15, 1-5) on Saturday. After gutting out some close wins, Princeton is in the crosshairs of the rest of the league, as the Lions and the Big Red would love nothing more than to take down the Tigers this weekend.
Despite this opposition Princeton remains optimistic, sophomore forward Mack Darrow explained.
“We’re confident as a result of our overtime experiences,” Darrow said. “We feel like we have the answers down the stretch. There is no fear or uncertainty in our eyes in the last two minutes, and I really like our ability to bear down when the outcome of the game is in doubt.”
Princeton is currently undefeated in Ancient Eight play, but all five of their wins have come during a seven-game homestand, and they have not left Jadwin Gymnasium since December. Princeton leads the league in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. The Tigers look to get better at putting the game away late: Yale, Harvard and Penn all roared back from large deficits to make the games close in the final minutes.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that we have to do a better job of guarding the three-point line late in games,” Darrow said. “We’ve unfortunately been making a lot of mental mistakes late in games, and it’s something were looking to improve on heading into this weekend.”
Senior guard and tri-captain Dan Mavraides and junior guard Doug Davis lead Princeton in the backcourt while the Tigers are deep in the frontcourt. Junior forward Patrick Saunders, sophomore forward Ian Hummer and sophomore center Brendan Connolly start for the Tigers with senior forward Kareem Maddox playing starters’ minutes off the bench. Davis scored his 1,000th point on Tuesday against Penn, becoming the 27th Tiger to reach the milestone and the first junior since Kit Mueller ’91.
Princeton was very balanced on Tuesday, with four players — Mavraides, Davis, Darrow and Saunders — leading the team with 11 points each. The Tigers have been deadly recently from behind the arc, shooting 42.9 percent against Dartmouth and 52.9 percent against Penn from three-point range.
“A lot of our success outside starts with our success inside,” Darrow said. “Guys like Brendan, Ian and Kareem are very hard to guard down low. They’re also incredibly unselfish, so when teams try to focus on them, they make it easy for guys like Doug, Dan and Patrick to knock down shots.”
Columbia currently stands at .500 in Ivy League play, but is dangerous on offense, leading the league in scoring offense, rebounding offense and rebounding margin. Guard Noruwa Agho leads the league in scoring, while center Mark Cisco leads the league in field goal percentage. Forward Asenso Ampim and guard Brian Barbour also play an integral role in the Lions’ offensive attack.
Cornell has fallen a long way from last year’s run to the Sweet 16. The Big Red is currently tied for last place in the Ivy League, at 1-5, with a victory over Brown as their only league win. Guard Chris Wroblewski and forward Adam Wire lead Cornell, which is first in the league in three-point defense, turnover margin and three-point field goals made.
After Princeton’s win over Harvard last Friday, most of the major bracket projections predict the Tigers’ winning the Ancient Eight and earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Before that can happen, Princeton needs go on the road this weekend and secure important league wins in a hostile environment.
“I think we’re an experienced road team,” Darrow said. “We’ve played in a lot of tough environments this year. I love the unity of this group, and I love the way we lean on one another. We’ll continue to support each other and do a great job of communicating, and the results will take care of themselves.”