PU learns lesson in loss to Penn

Tigers fall two games behind in Ivy race

By: Justin Feil
   PHILADELPHIA — Luke Owings chalked up the Princeton University men’s basketball team’s 60-41 loss to the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday night as a learning experience.
   The Tigers hope they can somehow benefit from it as they open the second half of the Ivy League season 7 p.m. tonight at Cornell, their fourth straight road game. The Tigers play at Columbia 8 p.m. Saturday.
   The Tigers saw some of what it takes to be an unbeaten Ivy leader as the Quakers pulled out to a two-game lead over them in the Ivy race by snapping their four-game winning streak. Penn held Princeton to 31 percent shooting for the game and limited the Tigers to just two second-chance points. Penn held a 20-3 advantage in points off turnovers.
   "It takes a lot more toughness than we showed tonight," said Owings, the junior forward who tied for game-high scoring honors with 18 points. "We have to rebound the ball a lot better than we did and stop having the turnovers we did. I think we had 17 turnovers and five assists, which is atrocious. We know they’re in every passing lane, we know they’re trying to play the plays on everything. That’s fine. We should be able to play with that. We just didn’t do it very well tonight."
   Princeton shot only 23 percent in the first half, but it wasn’t difficult shots that cost the Tigers any chance of momentum. It was layups and open three-pointers that missed their mark and ultimately allowed Penn to open up a lead.
   "We missed some critical layups in the first half that might have changed the complexion a little," said PU head coach Joe Scott, whose team slipped to 7-13 overall, 5-2 in the Ivy League. "It allowed them to stretch the lead out on us. I thought there were good looks for us and they didn’t go in. We’ve been struggling with that all year. It’s something we have to get better at.
   "They played like the veteran team they are. They were tough. They took care of the ball at critical junctures in the second half. We didn’t take care of the ball. They made plays. We turned it over."
   The Tigers were effective at the defensive end with their matchup zone. Through the first nine minutes of the game, the Quakers had just five points. Princeton, however, also had just five.
   "Our defensive effort was mainly good enough," Owings said, "but we’d miss layups and everything goes together. We’d let it get us down on defense. It’s kind of like a cycle going down. We started out with pretty good defensive effort. They had five points in the first 10 minutes. We started out well but then started letting up as things wouldn’t go our way. We didn’t get that break we really needed. We could have definitely done better."
   It was the few veterans on the Tigers that brought them back in the second half after the deficit stretched to 18 points with 13:28 to play. Scott Greenman, the Tigers’ lone senior, had a three-point play then four straight free throws sandwiched around a Penn score before Owings’ three-point play made a 10-point game again with 10:38 left. The Tigers brought it to 10 one more time on a layup by Greenman with under five minutes left, but never got it to single digits again. Greenman finished with 14 points.
   "Scotty did a pretty good job," Scott said. "His shooting (0-for-4 from three-point range) was affected by the amount of work he had to do. He played well and Owings played well. They did what they needed to do to give us a chance on the road."
   Outside of the veteran pair, however, the Tigers weren’t as terrific. Noah Savage was the only other Princeton player to score a field goal and only Justin Conway, who made a pair of free throws, also scored in the game. Conway made six turnovers and had just two assists after being solid at starting center the last four games. Tuesday maybe some inexperience came out for the Tigers.
   "I’d say it was a learning experience," Owings said. "They’re a good team. They’re hard to play, especially here. We weren’t ready right now. At this point, we’re still in our growth process. But we’ll be ready by the end, don’t worry. We weren’t ready right now and I think it showed.
   "They are experienced," he added of Penn. "All of their guys have played. They played in the tournament and they played us tough two years ago, most of the guys who are on this team right now. This is definitely an experience. This is a place unlike any other. You’re not going to just come out and light it up from the get-go unless you’re a super special player. But I think with time, they’ll come around."
   As much as the missed shots at the offensive end hurt the Tigers, it was the inside play of Steve Danley and rebounding of Mark Zoller that hurt Princeton at the offensive end. Danley tied Owings for a game-high 18 points, while Zoller had three offensive rebounds among his 10 total boards to go with three assists. Penn made it a focus to push the ball inside against the smaller Tigers, who start 6-foot-4 Conway at center.
   "I think they took advantage of our whole zone, not Conway in particular," Owings said. "Our whole zone wasn’t packed in. If you saw the Yale game, our whole zone was packed in and they couldn’t even get the ball to Dom (Martin, Yale’s 6-10 center). We should have done the same thing in this game. We were too spread out. We saw the shooters and were a little worried about them on the weak side so our guys wouldn’t be in the middle of the lane where they’d be stealing those entry passes and those high-lows like we should have been."
   The Tigers will learn from it. They understand how they can be better. They know they can make layups and open three-pointers. And they know they will have to in the second half of the Ivy season to remain Penn’s toughest contender for the Ivy title. The Tigers need some help as someone else will have to knock off the Quakers before the final game of the season at Jadwin Gym, but they also have to make sure they open another big winning streak.
   "This is an extremely important weekend for us," Scott said. "We have to come of this loss and go on the road and do what we did last weekend. This is a real litmus test coming this weekend and we’ll see how our guys respond."
   First up is a Cornell team that is the only other Ivy team to stop the Tigers. Then comes a physical Columbia team that took Princeton to overtime in the teams’ first meeting at Jadwin. Princeton will have to win those before it shows Penn what it learned Tuesday when the teams meet again Mar. 7 in Jadwin.
   "It is a great experience for us," Owings said. "Just to get in here and play a game that really mattered. It’s great to be in this situation. We hope to be in another passion-filled crowd at home in the last game if they get a loss and we can run some here."