Friday, March 17, 2017

A Little Madness

TigerBlog will take a three-point attempt by Devin Cannady for the win in any game, any time, any place.

Pickup game. Early season in Jadwin Gym. NCAA tournament. Today. Tomorrow. A year from now. Doesn't matter.

Princeton was outstanding yesterday in its NCAA tournament opener against Notre Dame, and in the end, there was next to nothing that separated the Tigers from a team that played in the championship game of the ACC tournament a week ago, a team that has been to the final eight of the NCAA tournament each of the last two years, a team that has been ranked all season.

In the end, there was just a basketball, released from Cannady's hands. It looked all the world like it was headed in; instead, it caught the rim, and ND held on, 60-58.

Again, give TigerBlog a shot by Devin Cannady in that situation and he'll take it every single time.

Afterwards, TigerBlog read this about Cannady in the New York Post, and it sums him up perfectly: "He went to the podium and answered questions and then trudged to the dressing room and faced the music standing at his locker. A champion in defeat."

It's takes guts to do what Cannady did during the game, and it takes someone of the highest character to do what he did afterwards. He has not one thing to hang his head about.

Let's not lose track of what Princeton had to do in this game. Notre Dame is a team that doesn't make mistakes. The Irish rarely turn it over and rarely miss foul shots. They are toughened after going through the entire ACC season.

This is what happens in the NCAA tournament. There are no easy opponents.

Princeton's challenge was enormous. The first challenge in a game like this is to establish that you're not going anywhere, that you're in it for the full 40 minutes.

What did the Tigers do? They did what was necessary in that situation - they put themselves in a position to win the game at the end.

It wasn't Princeton who struggled in the moment. It was Notre Dame, who uncharacteristically missed foul shots and didn't look sharp down the stretch.

Princeton trailed by 11 with 13:46 to go, but there was no panic by the Ivy League champ. There was no feel that the game was getting away either.

Back came to Tigers, getting within one twice - first on a Stephen Cook three-pointer with 3:20 left and then a tip-in off a missed shot by Pete Miller with 16 seconds left. Then it was a foul and a missed foul shot by Matt Farrell, an 81 percent free throw shooter.

Now Amir Bell brought it up the court, time ticking away, a chance to win it. Bell looked like he wanted to turn the corner, but there he was doubled, so he got the ball back to Cannady.

Open for the three, Cannady let it go. It was the right play all around by everyone on the court.

Once Cannady caught it, he didn't have enough time to drive. Could Bell have gone to the basket? Maybe, but he was probably just as likely to have gotten trapped in the corner as time ran out.

As far as Cannady goes, he's a special player. He carries himself with total confidence and composure, and it's reflected in his play on the court. He caught it with confidence and shot it with confidence, and that's all you could ask.

TigerBlog has seen Princeton teams lose close NCAA tournament games before. It started in 1989, when the Tigers lost 50-49 to No. 1 Georgetown. He's seen a four-point loss to Arkansas, with their three first-round NBA picks, and by two to Villanova. And by three to Cal. And seven to Syracuse and Michigan State. And by two to Kentucky.

The game yesterday gets added to the list.

And so the book on the 2017 Princeton Tigers has been closed. Where will history remember this group?

Well, this team, as TB wrote earlier this week, had to do something nobody else ever had to, and that's win the Ivy League tournament to get to the NCAAs. In doing so, Princeton went 16-0, a record that obviously is unmatched.

Princeton showed along the way an ability to do things that required great toughness, whether it was winning on the road at Harvard, or at home against Penn on a night when shots weren't falling and a 21-point lead disappeared and winning at Penn in the Ivy semifinal while never having the lead at any point of regulation.

It's a team that had three first-team All-Ivy players - Myles Stephens (also the defensive Player of the Year), Stephen Cook and Spencer Weisz (also the league Player of the Year) - and at times the best player on the team was none of those three but instead Cannady and Bell.

Princeton's season actually goes all the way back to last summer, when the Tigers went to Italy for an international trip. They also played in Hawaii in December.

They put together a 19-game winning streak, one that ended yesterday to Notre Dame.

By any measure, this was a special team and a special season. And one that made history, as the first team ever to be asked to - and then win every one of - 16 Ivy games.

In the end, Princeton fell just short, to one of college basketball's elite. If Notre Dame is the 14th-best team in the country - as it is ranked - then what does that make Princeton? You do the math.

They gave, as former coach Pete Carril said, a good account of themselves.

There's something else Carril once said, after the Georgetown game, after there was no foul called on Alonzo Mourning on his blocks of Bob Scrabis and Kit Mueller. Was there a foul, Carril was asked?

"I'll take that up with God when I get there," was his famous response.

This game shouldn't cause that kind of livelong angst. This was a great NCAA tournament game, one that could have gone either way, one that came down to literally the final second.

Give TigerBlog Devin Cannady in that spot, ball in his hands.

Win or lose, TB is fine with that every single time.


Mike Knorr said...

I go back a little farther. You can add; St Joe's in '63, North Carolina in '67, Rutgers in '76 and Boston College in '83 to that list. The score wasn't that close vs. BC but we went 0 for the first 14 minutes of the second half so it was just as frustrating.

George Clark said...

I guess these things even out over time. Cannady's last second heroics against Penn at The Palestra in his first Ivy League game forced OT and a victory. His 8 points in 20 seconds against Columbia in NYC last year forced another OT and a victory that still has Lion fans in shock. I remember the video recreating the last shot that Cannady and Mike Washington put together at Jadwin. This very special young man is comfortable in those spots and is not afraid to take the shot. And he takes the responsibility for the outcome, whatever it may be. Thank goodness we'll see him play for two more years.