Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Three Road Games, Five Days

TigerBlog Jr. and his Sacred Heart men's lacrosse teammates had a scrimmage last week at Fairfield.

As with any other trip from Princeton to Fairfield, it's impossible to know how long it's going to take. TigerBlog, encountering a rare traffic-free trip, arrived very early.

And what do you do when you get to Fairfield University two hours before a lacrosse scrimmage? Right. You go find the men's basketball coach to say hello.

The men's basketball coach at Fairfield is, of course, Sydney Johnson. Among his other claims to fame, Sydney is the only men's basketball player ever to be the Ivy League Player of the Year (in 1997) and coach a team to an Ivy League championship (Princeton in 2011).

In fact, there are only, if TB is correct, four other people who have ever won the Ivy League Player of the Year award in men's basketball and gone on to be a head coach in the Ivy League. TB will give you a few paragraphs to figure it out.

In the meantime, back at Fairfield, TigerBlog pulled into the parking lot next to the lacrosse stadium and then looked up where the basketball office was. The answer turned out be in the Walsh Athletic Center. TB was about to look on the campus map when he noticed a giant building next to the lacrosse field with the words "Walsh Athletic Center" on the side.

TigerBlog walked into the building and up to the second floor. When he walked into the men's basketball office, the first face he saw was familiar. As it turned it out, it belonged to Kyle Koncz, a former Princeton player who is now the Stags' Director of Basketball Operations.

After saying hi to Kyle, TB went into the back, where he found Sydney as he watched some video. Fairfield had a game that night against Niagara.

Oh, and the answer to the question - Armond Hill (1975 Ivy Player of the Year at Princeton, Columbia head coach), Craig Robinson (1982 and1983 POY at Princeton, head coach at Brown), Jerome Allen (1993 and 1994 POY and then head coach, both at Penn), Brian Earl (1999 POY at Princeton, head coach at Cornell).

Anyway, it's hard to believe that it has been six years since Sydney left here and six years since TB had seen him. Six years. It seems like so long and a blink of eye, all at the same time.

TigerBlog was the men's basketball contact during Sydney's career here, and TB saw pretty much every game he played here.

It was Sydney who hit the huge three-pointer from the corner to give Princeton the lead in the final minute of overtime against Penn in the 1996 Ivy playoff game. Without that, there wouldn't have been an NCAA win over UCLA.

As Princeton head coach, Sydney led Princeton to the 2011 Ivy title and NCAA tournament, where the Tigers lost by a basket to Kentucky.

TigerBlog has said this before, but the player now who most reminds him of Sydney is Spencer Weisz, who had a huge weekend for the Tigers in their return from first semester exams. Weisz - like Johnson, he can do everything well and, despite not being known as a scorer, is over 1,000 points for his career - earned Ivy League and goprincetontigers.com Player of the Week honors after putting up a career high 26 Friday night against Dartmouth and then 13 more Saturday at Harvard. He had eight rebounds in each game.

The game Friday night was dangerous for all kinds of reasons.

First, Princeton hadn't played in 20 days. Second, it was playing a team that at the time was winless in the league (the Green would beat Penn Saturday night). Third, the game was at Dartmouth's Leede Arena, which, as TB can tell you, is never an easy place to win.

Princeton gutted that one out 69-64 after trailing most of the game, including by 10 in the first half. The entire second half was a grind, as neither team ever had more than a six-point lead after the break.

With that win in the bank, it was time for the two-hour ride to Cambridge, where Princeton hadn't won since 2010. That streak ended, but it wasn't easy.

In the end, it was 57-56 Princeton, as Steven Cook's offensive rebound off a missed foul shot and subsequent layup in the final seconds gave the Tigers the winning points. The game was a great one, an intense one, and both teams made all kinds of big plays down the stretch before Cook won it.

Princeton had very little time to celebrate, as its busiest stretch of the year continues tonight in Philadelphia, where the Tigers will take on the Penn at 7, and then this weekend with two games at home, including Brian Earl's homecoming with the Big Red.

Cook, by the way, sits at 999 career points heading into the game tonight.

Right now, the Ivy standings have Princeton on top at 5-0, followed by 5-1 Yale and Harvard and Columbia at 4-2 each. Brown and Cornell are both 2-4, followed by 1-5 Dartmouth and 0-5 Penn.

Princeton is almost surely going to be back at the Palestra in a little more than four weeks for the first Ivy tournament. The Tigers want to get there as the top seed and regular-season champ.

Each game is big towards that goal. Playing three road games in five days isn't easy.

And if you're thinking about the records, yes, that makes the game tonight 5-0 against 0-5.

And no, it will not be easy in any way for Princeton.

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