PU still trailing Quakers

Tigers split wild weekend games

By: Bob Nuse
   Justin Conway is finding out just how crazy basketball life in the Ivy League can be.
   On Saturday morning, he and his Princeton University teammates were on top of the world. The night before, the Tigers not only rallied from nine points down in the closing minutes to beat Cornell in double-overtime, but also got the word that first-place Penn had lost to last-place Columbia.
   So, as the Tigers made the trip to New York City to play the Lions, they sat just one game behind Penn in the Ivy standings. But, by the time Saturday came to a close, Princeton had dropped a one-point decision at Columbia, Penn had beaten Cornell, and the Tigers once again trailed the first-place Quakers by two games in the standings.
   "We were pumped up," said Conway, who has helped the Tigers go 5-3 since entering the starting lineup last month. "Obviously, we knew that by beating Cornell, and with Penn losing to Columbia, we had a good opportunity and had destiny in our own hands. But we also knew that Columbia would be pumped up with a chance to sweep Penn and Princeton on the same weekend. We knew they would come out fired up."
   On Friday night, Scott Greenman made three-point shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime, tying the score each time in a game the Tigers eventually won at Cornell, 76-68, in double overtime. On Saturday, Princeton rallied from 11 points down in the second half to eventually take a four-point lead at Columbia with just over two minutes left. But the Lions scored seven of the game’s final nine points, including a basket by Justin Armstrong with 11 seconds left, to post a 65-64 win.
   "Unfortunately, things didn’t go our way in the first half," said Conway, who had 13 points and four rebounds against Columbia. "We were down, but I love the way our team never gives up every game we’ve played this season. I’m proud of the way we fought back, but we just came up a little bit short."
   The weekend split leaves the Tigers 8-14 overall and 6-3 in the Ivy League with five games to play. They will need more help if they hope to be a in a position to make their season finale against Penn a meaningful game.
   "We could not afford to come out flat like we did," Conway said. "No matter who it is we play, we can’t get down like that in the first half. As Saturday showed, any team in this league is capable of coming out and playing well.
   "You really can’t leave it up to anyone else. Crazy things happen in this league all the time. We had a good opportunity when Columbia beat Penn, but we weren’t able to take advantage of the situation. We know anything can still happen and we have a big week coming up. We’ll keep working hard and fighting and let the league know we’re not going to throw in the towel."
   While Saturday’s loss was disappointing, it shouldn’t take away from the fact Princeton has continued to turn its season around. The Tigers were 2-11 before beginning play in the Ivy League, and with each weekend the team continues to make progress.
   "It’s definitely good to be winning," said Conway, who is averaging 6.1 points and 3.5 rebounds a game in his eight starts. "It’s much more fun than losing. We know we’re a better team than we showed in the game at Penn. They’re a good team, but they’re not 19 points better than we are."
   On most nights this Ivy season, Princeton has shown itself to be a team that will battle anyone to the end. In fact, four of their six Ivy wins have come either in overtime or by three points or less. It’s made for some dramatic finishes.
   "I think we’ve shown that we’re never out of it, especially with Greenman pulling shots out of his magic hat," Conway said. "That definitely helps us. By the same token, we know that if we play the way we should play and the way we can play, we should not even be in those situations where we have to leave it up to a shot at the end of the game. We want to get better and start to close out teams. We need to not get down at the beginning of games and we need to play the way we know we can play."
   In the win at Cornell, Noah Savage played 48 minutes and finished with a career-high 28 points, while Greenman played all 50 minutes and had 27 points. At Columbia, Greenman played all 40 minutes and led the Tigers with 17 points, while Luke Owings had 14 points.
   Next up are home games with a pair of teams the Tigers swept on the road.
   "We have Dartmouth and Harvard at home this weekend and those are big games for us," Conway said. "We have to defend our home court. We’ve been on the road for a while, but now we come home and these are big games for us."
   In the Ivy League, they’re all big games. And in one day, everything can change.