Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Night In Lawrenceville

Mack Darrow said he was just waiting to see Douglas Davis be the hero again. Instead, he found himself at center stage, and his majestic three-pointer as time expired in overtime gave Princeton a 72-71 win over Rider, ending a wonderful night of basketball in Lawrenceville.

About 10 minutes after Darrow won it on his only basket of the night, TigerBlog was on the radio with John Sadak interviewing assistant coach Brian Earl, who said essentially that Princeton and Rider should play every year and he's not sure why they haven't, especially back when he was a player.

In fact, it had been nearly a decade since the teams last met, and they had played only twice since 1947 prior to last night. Princeton had never before played at Rider's Alumni Gym.

Watching the game last night, that seemed like such a silly history, or lack of it.

As for the game itself, it was a showcase for the multi-dimensional talents of Princeton's Ian Hummer, who came very close the first triple-double in program history as he finished with a line of 21 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

More than the numbers, Hummer has such a calming influence over everything that is going on on the floor, especially because he has the ball so often. And he is explosively quick off the dribble for someone who is routinely guarded by a big man.

If all of that sounds familiar to Princeton's fans who go back more than 20 years, those words also could describe Kit Mueller, the player Hummer most reminds TB of in his time watching the team. And that says a lot, since Mueller is one of the greatest players Princeton has ever had.

Another player who had a huge night was T.J. Bray, who played nearly all 45 minutes and had a career-best 11 points to go with eight rebounds. He had huge baskets down the stretch, giving Princeton its first lead at 61-60 with 2:24 to go in regulation and then snapping a 61-61 tie with a three-pointer 45 seconds later.

Princeton might have figured this was going to be an easy night against a 1-9 team that was allowing 82 points and nearly 50% shooting for the season, but the Broncs hardly looked like their numbers, as they mixed a fluid offense and an aggressive defense that made TB and the rest of the Princeton people wondering what had been going on for the first 10 games.

Rider actually had the lead for 41:57 of a 45-minute game, twice leading by as many as 16 in the first half. Princeton fell behind 25 seconds into the game and played the whole game trying to push a rock up a hill, especially in the second half, when Rider's lead seemed to extend to seven and come back to three, only to go back to seven, for what seemed like an eternity.

Heading into the final stretch of the overtime, Rider was up two with 8.3 seconds left and shooting two foul shots, both of which were missed. Davis pushed the ball up the court and tried to get to the basket, only to find himself cut off.

Darrow, standing just in front of the Princeton bench, caught the pass already squared to shoot, and he let it go just ahead of the final buzzer and the red light on the backboard. The ball soared through the air and splashed down perfectly, at least for the Tigers.

It was a tremendously entertaining game to watch, and the drama was all in whether or not Princeton was ever going to actually catch the Broncs. The entire time, the question was how Rider would respond if it actually fell behind.

TB was on the radio with Sadak, sitting on the baseline in the gym. The media used to sit courtside, only to be shipped to the baseline years ago, after Harvey Yavener - in the TB Hall of Fame - used to spend the whole game talking to the Rider coaches.

The view from the baseline is a pretty good, as the floor spacing is clear and it's easy to see how sequences develop. It's hard to judge the distance from the basket at the far end of the court, but it's only 94 feet, not 100 yards, so it's not that bad.

TB hasn't done radio for basketball in awhile, though he has done a few hundred games, with partners like Sadak, Dan Loney, Tom McCarthy, all the way back to Peter Peretzman and David Brody.

TB likes the radio, the way it focuses him on the game the entire time, as opposed to doing PA, when the microphone is off much of the time or simply watching the game, when conversations drift in and out and much of the game blurs together.

A few years ago, TB gave up his seat next to Sadak to Noah Savage, the former Princeton captain who had, to TB's knowledge, no radio experience at that point. Savage, in a very short time, has become an outstanding color commentator, and he and Sadak are very good together on the air.

TB's strength is in his knowledge of Princeton basketball history more so than X's and O's, while Savage knows enough of the first and a ton about the second.

After the game, when Earl came on for the postgame interview, he talked about how strange a game it had been with Rider in the lead the entire time, what it's like to play so many games on the road, about his confidence in Darrow as a shooter, about Hummer's all-around game.

When he was done, Sadak and TB wrapped it up talking about Princeton's progress on the year, the challenge of the league down the road, the usual.

And then it was a few lingering goodbyes to some of the people TB knows from Rider, including Director of Athletics Don Harnum. TB also had a great chance to catch up with Associate AD Greg Busch, who used to work at Princeton.

All that was left after that was the short ride home for everyone, regardless of which team you were there to see.

For a Wednesday night college basketball game in December in Mercer County, it was hard to ask for anything more.

1 comment:

George Clark said...

"...trying to push a rock up a hill..." Shall I say it? PRICELESS...That is exactly how it felt to a Tiger fan in the stands.Mixed feelings about playing in that place every other year. But what a game it was!!! Nice report.