Princeton’s Defense Continues To Be Missing

Princeton did lose Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook to graduation last season, both huge pieces in a squad that was supposed to usher in a new era of Ivy League dominance for the Tigers, which had finished 28-2 in the last two years in Ivy play. However, Princeton had also somehow maneuvered around season-ending injuries to starters Henry Caruso and Hans Brase and came within seconds of beating Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.

Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens, and Amir Bell returned, so surely the Tigers would find enough from newcomers to at least contend for another Ivy crown.

At least at the moment, nope.

Princeton was humbled Saturday night by last-place Dartmouth, 72-58, conceding 1.47 points per possession in the second half and losing to the Big Green in regulation for the first time in 2008. Four straight losses have put the Tigers 3-5 in Ivy play, a game behind Yale and Brown for the final spot in the Ivy League Tournament, and with no easy answers on how to bridge that gap in the final three weeks of the campaign.

“We really haven’t been able to practice much, so thank goodness we’ll have a chance to practice this week,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We have to be incredible in practice and then we go back on the road for two more. We’re not out of it, but we have work to do and we’ll probably need some help.”

What else did we learn on Flannel Night at Leede Arena Saturday?

  1. Princeton can’t play defense

The Tigers finished 45th nationally in adjusted defense last season, easily best in Ivy play at 0.899 ppp (Harvard was second at .0989). This season they are 247th nationally, and allowing 1.074 ppp (which went up again Saturday) in conference games. What has gone wrong? Well, it’s tough to say.

Myles Stephens was widely regarded as the best defender in the Ivy League and Princeton is still keeping opponents off the glass well, but not preventing them from getting to the rim (262nd in two-point defense at 52.1%) or making them turn it over (280th at 16.9%). That’s a deadly combination that saw Dartmouth score on six straight possessions down the stretch without making a three-pointer and eventually put the game away.

How do you fix it on the fly? Well, we shall have to see what Henderson does.

“All the credit has to go to Dartmouth, they had just about everybody before us beat here. They’ve taken some really difficult losses, and we didn’t have enough to get back in the game. We’re sliding right now. It’s frustrating,” Henderson said.

2) Dartmouth is much better than its record

Losing Evan Boudreaux just before the season was seen as a death knell for this season, but the Big Green (5-16, 1-7) could easily be in an Ivy playoff position with some breaks. They have not lost in conference by more than 10 points, and its guards have been able to compete favorably at both ends. Unfortunately, Taylor Johnson and Miles Wright are both seniors, but they figure to give opponents fits down the stretch as well.

“What I told the guys in the locker room after was that nothing is different than last (Friday) night,” Dartmouth coach David McLaughlin said. “We’re proud of you, you’re playing so hard, and you’re getting better every time you step on the floor. Today, we just happen to win. Taylor and Brendan controlled the tempo, especially at the end of possessions. When you see a double for the first time in a game, it’s always going to take a possession or two to get used to it, but we handled that well for most of the game, especially in the second half.”

3) Dartmouth has been able to replace Boudreaux

With Boudreaux now on his way to transferring, McLaughlin said early in the season that the responsibility would not fall to one player, but a combination. Enter sophomore Will Emery and freshmen Chris Knight and Adrease Jackson. It was Jackson’s turn Saturday, scoring 16 points in 15 minutes, including a three-pointer (he is shooting better than 50 percent this season) and some unconventional but effective post moves.

Knight has been the most athletic of the bunch and has served as a solid rim protector and rebounder that can cover in help when the guards are being aggressive outside the three-point arc. Meanwhile, Emery – who barely saw any playing time behind Boudreaux in Ivy play last season – is now second in conference play in offensive rebounding and fifth on the defensive end, while leading the league in drawing fouls. He took just two shots in 35 minutes Saturday, but pulled down nine rebounds.

“Me, Will, and Chris are a really tight unit,” Jackson said. “We work out together every day, and we’re always talking to each other. We tell each other we need to get every rebound and just defend our butts off. Evan leaving was hard, but us three play really well together.”

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