PRINCETON: Tough early schedule should help PU hoops

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By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
In college basketball, different programs take different approaches to how they schedule their games in the early part of the season.
At Princeton, it is pretty clear that coach Mitch Henderson wants his team to be challenged.
So, just three days after opening the season on the road at traditional power Butler, the Tigers came home to play Brigham Young, a team that has won at least 20 games for 12 straight seasons.
In a spirited battle that saw the lead change hands 17 times, BYU used a 9-2 surge down the stretch to top the Tigers, 65-56.
The loss was the second straight for Princeton. The Tigers were handed an 85-75 defeat against Butler on Nov. 12 in Indianapolis.
Princeton did some things well enough to win the game against BYU.
“We needed everyone to pitch in together tonight,” said Henderson, whose team rallied from 11 points down to get within 56-54 with less than three minutes to play. “I didn’t think we played very well together as a team on offense. I thought (against Butler) on Sunday we played well enough to win on offense and bad defensively. Tonight we were very good defensively except for the fouls and we couldn’t get it done on offense. There is a good team in there somewhere.”
Neither team had led by more than three points and the Tigers trailed just 45-43 when BYU’s Zac Seljaas made a three-point basket. The Princeton bench was then hit with a pair of technical fouls and Henderson was ejected. After Elijah Bryant hit all four free throws, the Cougars suddenly owned a 52-43 lead.
“I ask them to hold themselves to an incredibly high standard and I didn’t do that tonight,” Henderson said of his technical fouls. “I put us in a hole. The guys need and deserve the opportunity to compete in the game without me interfering. That is totally out of line. Things happen. I am not proud of it but I have some improving to do as well.”
With BYU leading, 54-45, Princeton went on a 9-2 burst to close the gap to 56-54. But that was as close as the Tigers would get.
“I wish we could play like that throughout the course of a game,” Henderson said of the late rally. “I really like my team. I really feel good about the group. I think we have a chance to be very good.
“We’re improving. We’re getting there. We’re not there yet. We have to keep working at it. And that starts with me. I have to lead us in that sense.”
Devin Cannady finished with 19 points to lead Princeton, while Myles Stephens delivered 10 points and eight rebounds. The Tigers finished the game with a 36-23 edge on the boards and created 16 turnovers. But they also turned the ball over 19 times themselves.
“We didn’t get a single offensive rebound in Indianapolis,” Henderson said of the Butler loss. “We got 14 tonight. We outrebounded a good team. (Yoeli) Childs made one field goal. He and (TJ) Haws were a major point of emphasis for us and I thought we did a great job on both of them.
“We graduated guys who understood how to take care of the ball. So we’re learning. We had nine turnovers from the freshmen position. Let’s cut that in half right away.”
While Princeton fell to 0-2, there we enough encouraging signs that the team is moving forward. Princeton will play at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia on Saturday before returning home to play Lafayette on Nov. 22.
“I thought the offensive rebounds helped us stay in the game,” Cannady said. “It’s something we have been stressing and something we needed. We had some offensive rebounds that led to some second-chance points. Defensively, we stayed as locked in as we could. I think that was the loudest I have ever heard Jadwin Gymnasium. So the fans were involved and we were just together as a group and that helped us get there.”
The Tigers are certainly a work in progress. Three freshmen were on the floor for large chunks of the game. And with that youth will come some growing pains.
“We don’t have (sophomore forward) Will Gladsen yet,” Henderson said. “I do think Will provides some consistency for us. We’re looking combinations that are going to make us win. I thought Devin was terrific tonight in terms of leading. And he and Myles and Amir (Bell) have a challenge ahead of them to find that group and whoever is with them to sort of pull it up. We have a lot of good pieces.”