Tough stretch getting Princeton hoops ready for Ivy play



Photo by Beverly Schaefer / Richmond Arirguzoh scored a career-high 14 points in Princeton University’s 92-82 loss to St. Joseph’s at Jadwin Gym on Dec. 5.

By Bob Nuse
Sports Editor

For the Princeton University men’s basketball team, everything before January is about preparing for the Ivy League schedule.

The Tigers have challenged themselves with a December slate of games that should have them well prepared when Ivy League play begins on Jan. 5 against Penn.

Princeton took a three-game winning streak into a Dec. 5 home game against St. Joseph’s at Jadwin Gym, where the short run ended with a 92-82 setback against the Hawks.

“I feel really good,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said as far as where his team is right now. “I tell these guys all the time, and I don’t know if they believe me, but I believe we can be very good. We have a lot of nice pieces. We’re hopeful to welcome Jalen (Llewellyn) back soon. He is working hard to get back to where want him to be. I feel good about where we can be. We started off the season and Jose (Morales) hadn’t played any significant minutes and now he’s had two straight games with production. Richmond (Arirguzoh) is getting production. We know what Devin (Cannady) and Myles (Stephens) can do. I have confidence. We just haven’t put it together yet but it is coming.”

The Tigers are 4-4 after the loss to St. Joseph’s and an 89-74 loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden last Sunday. Devin Cannady led four Tigers in double-figures in scoring with 18 points. Freshman Jaelin Llewellyn added 17 points, while Richmond Arirgguzoh had 13 and Jose Morales added 12. They had defeated Monmouth, Maine and George Washington in their previous three outings.

Now they get perhaps the most challenging part of their schedule, following the  game against St. John’s with a game against Iona in Atlantic City on Dec. 15 and a game against one of the nation’s top programs,  Duke, on Dec. 18 at legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“What a great opportunity,” Henderson said just prior to the St. John’s game. “We’re going to the World Trade Center on Saturday. I was just telling the guys what a cool opportunity it is for our group to pay respect to the place and also learn a little bit about what happened on that day. Some of the guys on the team were 1 or 2 when that happened. A couple of the seniors know. And then we’re going to the Garden and playing St. John’s. And then we have Iona and Duke. What an unbelievable stretch for us.”

They go into the stretch with the offense clicking but the defense still needing some work. The Tigers scored 82 points against a good St. Joe’s team, but the defense allowed the Hawks to shoot 55 percent for the game and allowed 92 points.

“We weren’t at our best tonight, but I am very proud,” Henderson said after the St. Joe’s loss. “We’ve got a lot to learn, but I am very proud of Richmond’s performance tonight and Jerome (Desrosiers) off the bench. We’re coming together. I like the team. I think we can be really good.

“A couple of (St. Joe’s shots) you just have to tip your hat. I thought they shot the ball terrific. They did the same thing up here two years ago. They made shot after shot after shot. I give credit to them. But also, you have to stop that.”

Cannady led the Tigers with 23 points, while Aririguzoh connected for 14, Morales scored 13 and Desrosiers scored 12 in the loss to the Hawks. Aririguzoh’s production has improved steadily over the last few games and that has led to an increase in minutes played. His 14 points against the Hawks were a career high.

“He’s worked hard and he’s deserving,” Henderson said. “He is playing without fear, which is one of the keys. The schedule at this point doesn’t give us any breaks, but we just want to get better every single day and he does that. He embodies that for our group.”

Aririguzoh logged a career-high 30 minutes against GW last Saturday. He’s improved in so many areas, including at the free throw line where he made all eight of his attempts Wednesday night.

“I think the team and everybody is just helping me come along,” the junior from Ewing said. “The coaches are working with me individually and making sure I stay confident and keep going. I think my big thing has been my footwork and making sure my pivot is right there.

“I have been putting (free throws) up after practices. After some poor performances I just made a conscious effort to get in there with the coaches and just shoot them. I just have to keep being aggressive.”

Princeton has five game left before beginning Ivy League play. In addition to the three coming up, Princeton will play at Lafayette on Dec. 21 and at Arizona State on Dec. 29. Henderson will use the next three weeks to work out some kinks, hope his team gets healthy and be ready for Ivy play.

“I think we can score,” Henderson said. “Jerome had a nice effort off the bench. It was another consistent effort from Jose and Devin. And we have been working really hard with Myles. Tonight wasn’t a great night for him, but we have confidence in Myles and everybody in this group. I really feel like we have got something and we’re going to come together in the right way.”