Monday, January 9, 2017

Winning Time

The Princeton men's basketball team pushed its lead over Penn to 21 four minutes into the second half Saturday, and over on the radio, where TigerBlog was situated, it was getting perilously close to garbage time.

You know. Game over. Lot of time left to talk. So find something to fill the time.

TigerBlog was doing the game with Patrick McCarthy, who continues to improve each time he does a game, by the way. Patrick is the son of Tom McCarthy, the veteran broadcaster who did a lot of Princeton football and men's basketball early in his career and now is, among other things, the Phillies' TV play-by-play man and a national voice for the NFL and NCAA basketball.

Patrick is a college senior, at The College of New Jersey. He was pretty nervous for his first Princeton game, back in November against Rowan. Was that really nearly two months ago already?

The Penn game was the fourth that TB and Patrick have done together.

Princeton was 3-0 in the first three games, with an average victory margin of 39.7 points. If you take away the 62-point win over Division III Rowan, it was still 28.5 for the two games.

In other words, that's a lot of garbage time.

When you're broadcasting, garbage time gets tricky. What are you supposed to do? As an announcer, you can feel your audience dwindling as the game goes along, until only those who really care are left. The game itself is no longer captivating, but at the same time, you don't want to turn your broadcast into a circus. That wouldn't be respectful of the players on the court.

Still, things can get a little looser.

For instance, Patrick is coaching a middle school boys' basketball team. On one of the earlier broadcasts, he mentioned his love of the box-and-one defense, something that TigerBlog hates. At the same time, TB will admit that that the box-and-one can definitely help you win middle school games, since middle school teams often have one dominant player. Stop that one player, and you'll be in good shape.

It's not something that usually works once you get past the middle school, which is why TB doesn't like it. You can also full-court press in middle school and cause held ball after held ball, something that TB saw when Miss TigerBlog was on her middle school team. The average elapsed time between whistles in those games was about six seconds.

Anyway, with Princeton up by 21, TB and Patrick began to talk about his team, which is 4-1. Before they could get any further into that, or talk about other things, a rather strange thing happened.

The game turned on a dime.

Princeton was up 39-18, in total control. Princeton wasn't playing its best, and certainly wasn't shooting its best, but Penn had made just one three-pointer, wasn't getting production from its two leading scorers - A.J. Brodeur and Matt Howard - and didn't really give the sense that it was capable of making a run.

Of course, that's exactly what happened next.

Turning the game on a dime, Penn went on a 26-5 run, turning the game into a 44-44 tie with seven minutes left. Timeout, Princeton.

Garbage time vanished. It was crunch time. Winning time, as it's known.

A 26-5 run is pretty astonishing. How many teams have lost a game in which they've had one? On the other hand, it wasn't quite as much as the 27-0 run Penn had against Princeton at the Palestra in the famous 1999 game, when Princeton led 3-0 before that monster run.

Penn would built that lead to 40-13 with 15 minutes left, but Princeton would come back to win that game 50-49. That's a win in a game in which Princeton allowed a 27-0 run. Again, that doesn't happen too often.

Meanwhile, back to the game Saturday, Princeton now found itself in a position that TigerBlog actually wanted to see. A tough league opponent. A night when the three-pointers weren't falling. How would the Tigers respond?

Let's be honest. There's no team in the league that can beat Princeton on a night when the Tigers shoot better than 50 percent from three-point range. It's possible any team in the league could beat Princeton on a night when the team is 3 for 19 from three-point range.

Possible, but not definite.

On the radio, TigerBlog told Patrick, a college pitcher, that Princeton was out there on a night when the team didn't have its best fastball. Now the team had to figure out a way to win using its other pitches, maybe locate better.

Out of the timeout, the ball went to Devin Cannady, the sophomore who just exudes confidence every time he touches the ball. Cannady took one step inside the three-point line to duck under a Penn defender and then calmly swished a 17-footer.

Then, after a steal by Spencer Weisz, Miles Stephens swished a three from the corner. Then it was Steven Cook, with a pair of foul shots.

Within 90 seconds of the timeout, Princeton was up by seven. Penn would never get closer than four again. The Tigers would win by nine, by a final of 61-52.

For Princeton, it was the best possible way to start the league season. Penn is an improving team, one that will certainly challenge for one of the four spots in the league tournament, which will be played on its home court. To get a win, a nine-point win at that, on a night when your strength was a weakness is not easy to do.

It also helps a lot more down the road.

Princeton knows that it can win a game when the threes aren't falling. That it can tough out the final seven minutes of a game against a team that had all the momentum on its side. That it can win a little ugly if that's what it takes.

Next up for Princeton is a pair of home games this weekend, against Brown and Yale. Then it's first semester exams. That doesn't leave a lot of time to focus on the game from the other night, but that's okay.

Some wins are impressive because of their beauty. Other wins are equally impressive for just the opposite reason.

Actually, make that more impressive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Random factoids about hoops comebacks:

When Princeton fought back against Penn in 1999 from down 27 with twelve minutes to play, at the time it was the third largest comeback in NCAA history in terms of total deficit overcome. It is now down to at least the fourth largest comeback in the record book. But the 50-49 win was and remains the largest comeback in terms of the percentage deficit overcome. Princeton made up a deficit of 55% of its opponent's final score, the most significant comeback ever.

Yesterday an equally astonishing comeback took place when Stony Brook ended the game on a 21-0 run to defeat Albany, scoring the winning points on a layup with 0.6 seconds left. The Seawolves had trailed 70-51 with 5:55 to go before rallying for the 72-70 win. That's a 30% recovery over half the amount of time Princeton needed in 1999.