Friday, February 17, 2012

Daily Princetonian Previews Tigers vs. Cornell

Only one Ivy League men’s basketball team in the last nine seasons has won the league despite copping three losses. Cornell managed the somewhat dubious feat in a strange, feisty 2008-09 season, which saw second-placed Princeton beat the 0.500 mark by a single win. To emulate Cornell, the Tigers (13-10 overall, 4-3 Ivy League) will have to win every remaining game and hope other results go their way.

The team takes on a struggling Columbia (14-10, 3-5) on Friday, before challenging an in-form Cornell (10-12, 5-3) the following evening. The two games take place in Jadwin Gymnasium, which played host to a grind against Dartmouth and a thriller against Harvard last weekend, both of which were wins.

After streaking off to a perfect 7-0 start, the Crimson juggernaut stuttered as it fell to the hands of the hungrier Tigers. After alternating between wins and losses for the first six games of the season, Princeton students could have been forgiven for staying home as the snow pounded relentlessly into the ground.

However, a rematch against the team that senior guard Doug Davis sank in one glorious moment last spring proved too enticing to simply push away. Thousands of students and local families squeezed into Jadwin as the Tigers successfully defended their record of defeating Harvard at home for 23 consecutive years.

“We didn’t feel we played our best ball against Dartmouth,” Davis said. “But against Harvard — I mean, there’s something about Harvard. We just play really well and we kind of execute whatever the coaches have us do with the game strategies, and we execute them to a tee.”

Columbia, as has been the trend this season, will likely resort to guards Brian Barbour and Melko Lyles for offensive production. The former has shot at 91 percent from the charity stripe this season, while the latter has drained an incredible 44 percent of his three-point attempts. If Davis and sophomore guard T.J. Bray can lock the pair down defensively, then the Tigers should be able to use their length to full advantage on both ends.

While junior forward Ian Hummer has been the standout in the frontcourt this season, fellow forwards junior Mack Darrow and senior Patrick Saunders have provided commendable support. Junior center Brendan Connolly has also seen his game develop significantly over the past few weeks and earned a spot on the starting lineup against the Crimson.

Cornell, like Princeton, swept its home games this weekend and has momentum on its side for the upcoming matches. Fortunately for the Tigers, the Big Red has a horrendous away record, winning a lone game outside Ithaca this season. In contrast, it has won over 80 percent of its home games, including its first matchup against Princeton.

The Big Red has relied on extremely balanced scoring this season. Its top four scorers average between 8.3 and 11.4 points per game, while two others pitch in with at least six points per game on average. On the other hand, the Tigers rely quite heavily on the power duo of Hummer and Davis to shoulder the burden when required.

For a successful title run, the entire team needs to collectively step up. Head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 waxed lyrical as he praised the team’s second-half performance against Harvard. To catch up to their rivals, the Tigers will need to produce similar performances. Although fortune will have to play a role, Davis underscored the point that Princeton simply has to focus on its own games to give itself the best opportunity.

“Harvard is in a really good spot right now, and I know that we put ourselves in a pretty big hole,” Davis said. “But I feel — and we need help from the other teams, obviously — but if we handle our business and, you know, win out like we’re supposed to, I think we’re setting ourselves up pretty good.”

The following Friday, the Tigers venture deep into New England to play Harvard and Dartmouth away from the comforts of Jadwin.

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