Harvard, Dartmouth can’t slow down Tigers

PU men’s hoops at Penn tonight

By: Justin Feil
   A snowstorm did what neither Harvard nor Dartmouth could do over the weekend.
   It slowed the progress of the Princeton University men’s basketball team. The Tigers swept their second straight Ivy League weekend with a 60-59 win over Harvard on Friday followed by a 52-49 win over Dartmouth on Saturday. Then came the bus ride home from Hanover, N.H., through a worsening snowstorm that didn’t allow the Tigers to arrive home until 4:15 a.m.
   "It was tough. It was long. We weren’t moving too quickly," said PU captain Scott Greenman. "It was a lot more fun after sweeping an away weekend than losing one of those weekend games."
   The Tigers make the significantly shorter trip to Philadelphia to take on Ivy leading Pennsylvania 8 p.m. tonight in a game with first-place implications. Penn is 6-0 in the Ivy standings. Princeton is 5-1 after winning its fourth straight game. No other team has fewer than three losses in the Ivies.
   "I think everybody on the team realizes the importance of this game," Greenman said. "Every game in the Ivy League, because there’s no tournament, is a huge game and this has added importance. Everyone is pumped up. We realize the significance of the game.
   "These five games are one of toughest stretches of our schedule. We’re away and away and playing really tough teams. Winning on the road should give us confidence. It’s our first road sweep in the last two years. Guys are learning what we’re doing. It’s paying off. The Palestra is the most difficult place to play. It’s a huge game. We’re definitely up for the challenge. We look forward to doing what we’ve done recently."
   The Tigers have looked like a far different team as of late from the one that won just twice in its non-conference schedule. Princeton made the plays down the stretch in both the win over Harvard on Friday and the win at Dartmouth on Saturday.
   Friday night, the Tigers trailed, 59-53, with 1:17 left but got a putback from Edwin Buffmire, a steal that led to a Greenman three-pointer to cut the deficit to one with 31 seconds left, and then a steal by Justin Conway with 20 seconds to go. Greenman than found Noah Savage on the baseline for a 15-footer with 0.2 seconds left to win it.
   "Friday night was just a matter of hanging in there when we were down," said Greenman, who finished with 10 points while Kyle Koncz recorded a career-high 20 to lead the Tigers. "We were down eight with a couple minutes to go. Our press, something we don’t work on often, helped us. Guys made plays when we needed it. They kept scrapping and it paid off for us."
   The next night in Hanover, Princeton held on as it was the Big Green who rallied late in the game. The Tigers won despite making just one field goal in the final 10 minutes. They were, however, 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
   After Dartmouth cut the lead to 46-45 with 13 seconds left, Greenman made a pair of free throws. He made another pair just seconds later to give the Tigers a 50-46 cushion. Luke Owings then made a pair with 1.9 seconds to go to provide the final margin.
   "We made foul shots," said PU coach Joe Scott after his team improved to 7-12 overall. "Our guys, Scotty and Luke, get credit for making shots. Noah made two big fouls on Friday. You want to win close games at home and on the road, you have to make fouls. Against Dartmouth, we always had the lead. That’s extremely important."
   Making the plays at the end the game to win it marks a strong contrast to last season when the Tigers couldn’t make the plays on their way to a 6-8 Ivy finish. With a win tonight, Princeton would equal last year’s Ivy win total.
   "Our guys know how we want to play and why we want to play that way," Scott said. "They know why we’re winning. They’ve embraced these things. I think that helps in close games. They’re doing what they know they have to do. To win close games, we made fouls. We made plays at the end of the game."
   Added Greenman, "I think it’s probably good for our team. We’re not extremely experienced. We haven’t been in too many close games that have come down to the wire this year. It’s good experience for the Ivy League. We have about eight games left. There are going to be a lot that come down to the last few minutes. It’s nice to know how to pull it out."
   Tonight will be Greenman’s final appearance in The Palestra. Last year, it was the scene of a big Penn comeback. He’d like to put that memory behind him, and the Tigers seem to put a lot of unpleasant memories behind them from earlier this season.
   "We remained confident throughout the season even though we were struggling severely," Greenman said. "We were trying to play different guys. Now we have a rotation down. We know exactly what we’re doing defensively. We know what other teams are running. We’ve gone back to basics. That’s something we did after the Davison game and after the Cornell game and it’s showing up in the games.
   "Offensively, it’s the same things as defensively. We were trying to do too many different things. We never got to be great at anything. We got decent, then we’d switch it up. We’re not running a lot of plays, but we’re knowing what they are and understanding how to score off them. We’re making shots too. I don’t know if that’s a byproduct of running the offense better or the offense is running better to get shots."
   But the Tigers know they are where they had hoped to be. They go to Philadelphia with a chance to play for first place.
   "We have to control the game," Scott said. "They’re good. They’re fast. They have good team speed. That’s going to be a big thing. We have to control the game offensively and defensively. It’s much more difficult on the road than at home. It’s a big game and they’re the home team. We know they’ll be ready. We have to control the game and make sure it’s played the way we want it to be played."