Despite all of the coaching and fundamentals that go into sports, many times the game comes down to elements that you simply cannot teach. Athleticism is one of the elements that the Princeton Tigers were lacking against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night in Jadwin Gymnasium.
Even in warm-ups, it was clear that Lehigh presented a challenge athletically that the Tigers had yet to face at home. Guards Lance Tejada, Kyle Leufroy, and Kahron Ross challenged Princeton defenders all night with penetration to create foul shot opportunities and open three-point looks.
Princeton (2-4) generally plays solid team defense but looked unprepared for the foot speed that the Mountain Hawks’ (4-3) backcourt brought to the table. Tejada finished the game with 18 points including 4-7 from 3 point range. Leufroy and Ross each chipped in 17 and 14 points respectively. The Tigers simply did not have an answer to matchup with the talented trio.
Devin Cannady tallied 27 points for the game with 23 of those coming while leading a heroic second-half rally where he went 7-10 from the field including 5 3 pointers.
Head Coach Mitch Henderson was candid about the team’s situation after the game.
“They really pushed us around tonight,” Henderson said. “A real eye-opener for our program. I haven’t ever seen this or been a part of it since I’ve been here.”
Despite getting the game to within a single basket in the second half, Princeton trailed by 22 at halftime allowing a blistering 58.1% from the field while hitting only 30% of their shots (0-10 from 3).
Princeton’s rotation is still in flux, with freshman big Richmond Aririguzoh making his second start after some bright moments to start the season. Richmond only tallied 5 minutes total for the game, however, as Coach Henderson did not seem to like his fit within this particular game. Going forward it will be interesting to see if fellow freshman big Sebastian Much (10 points on 4-6 shooting) will continue to get increased opportunities as he has seemed to provide an instant spark in each of the 3 games I have seen this team thus far.
Devin Cannady could be heard imploring his teammates to “roll up them sleeves” during second-half warm-ups and that is exactly what the Tigers did.
Cannady began the half with 3 straight 3 pointers that never even touched the rim. The rally was on as Cannady, Jose Morales, Myles Stephens, and Much all had key sequences during the second half that brought Princeton to within 8 points after a Morales layup brought Jadwin Gymnasium to its feet.
0:57 2nd | Lehigh 77, Princeton 75
Reigning @IvyLeague Defensive Player of the Year Myles Stephens with the swat, and #DC3 with the bucket at the other end! Tigers now within two. pic.twitter.com/0kiYJp0bXz
— Princeton Basketball (@Princeton_Hoops) November 30, 2017
Despite their efforts, an 8-1 run and the free throw game from Lehigh ended Princeton’s comeback hopes.
When asked about their first-half issues, Cannady carried a similar tone to his coach.
“It’s simply what are you willing to put into the game from a heart standpoint,” he said, “Being down 22 at the half, I told myself, and some of my teammates who really wanted to give it their all decided to do that.”
Princeton truly was a Jekyll and Hyde act shooting 51.5% from the field in the second half including 7-14 from deep. Lehigh saw their shooting cool off to the tune of 45.2% in the second half as the Tigers appeared refocused and re-energized after being punched in the mouth in the first half.
Myles Stephens chipped in a solid 15 points and seven rebounds while Amir Bell scored 12 points to compliment eight rebounds.
Princeton traditionally is stronger towards the end and after the new year. Last year’s Tigers fell to 4-6 before going undefeated on their way to an NCAA tournament berth. Coach Henderson is not pressing the panic button as of yet.
“That team (last year) came together and we’re still waiting for that moment,” Henderson said. “As long as they work at it, stay together and connect with each other that’s possible.”
Next up for Princeton is a trip to Florida to face #10 Miami on Dec 2nd.