Tigers basketball seeking success

PU wants wins with progress

Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
   PISCATAWAY — Sydney Johnson is interested in seeing progress.
   So is Noah Savage.
   And while the Princeton University men’s basketball team showed promise in games against Big East foes Seton Hall and Rutgers last week, the end result was not what either the PU coach or co-captain were hoping for.
   ”We want to win and that’s how we want to measure our success,” said Savage, who scored nine points in the Tigers’ 54-50 loss at Rutgers on Saturday. “We don’t want to be a team that feels good about losing by four. We don’t feel good about that. But at the same time, we’re not going to walk out of here and hang our heads. We competed tonight and stayed together as a team and that’s what you want.
   ”But this is college basketball. This isn’t rec league. We want to win the game. This is Princeton and we know what that means.”
   The loss was the fifth straight for the Tigers after opening the season with a pair of wins. Princeton led by as many as eight points in the first half and held onto that lead until Rutgers finally went ahead, 37-36, early in the second half. The Tigers never trailed by more than five points the rest of the way, but could never get the lead again. The teams were tied 48-48 before the Scarlet Knights scored six of the last eight points.
   ”We’re never going to get used to losing,” said Johnson, whose team will play at Evansville on Wednesday night. “But if you lose a game you move on to the next one and you attack it. I think we attacked this game. We weren’t scared. We weren’t thinking about Seton Hall. And that’s what you’ll see Wednesday. I can promise you that. I don’t know if we’re going to win. But I can promise you that we’ll compete and be in the moment.”
   The Tigers played toe-to-toe with both of the Big East foes the last two games. And they’ve shown signs of moving forward. And with the start of the Ivy League season still nearly two months away, progressing is the most important step.
   ”I think we’re getting closer to where we want to be and who we want to be,” said Johnson, whose team has eight more non-league games before opening the Ivy season Feb, 1 against Dartmouth. “We lost, so it’s hard. We don’t want to lose. Big East, Ivy League, ACC, I don’t really care. We just want to win every time out and play our best basketball. I don’t think we played enough good basketball to win the game.
   ”I felt like we had a very good road effort, but not good enough. Just being in the moment and competing to win a game is where we want to be every time and we were there today. It just got away.”
   Lincoln Gunn led a balanced scoring effort for the Tigers with 13 points. The sophomore guard also grabbed 10 rebounds and had three assists. Savage had nine points, while Kyle Koncz and Matt Sargeant added eight apiece.
   ”We felt like we were going to win the game until there were about 10 seconds left on the clock and we were down four,” Savage said. “We were confident. We planned to win this game and we came into it with that attitude.
   ”Whether you’re winning or losing, you want to play better every game. If you win and don’t play well, coaches and players aren’t happy. If you lose and play well, you’re not happy either. You want to win and play well and get better every game. Then you can be happy.”
   The Tigers got some solid minutes off the bench from Sargeant, Alex Okafor, Nick Lane and Pawel Buczak, So far this year Johnson appears willing to give minutes to any player who earns them in practice.
   ”I’m going to leave the door wide open all year for guys to compete and get in there,” Johnson said. “That is a message to this current team and a message to players who will join us. A starter is not necessarily going to play 40 minutes, unless that’s what is needed. And right now I don’t think it is needed. We have guys that are competing.”
   And even after losing five games in a row, the Tigers aren’t about to get down. There is still plenty of basketball to be played, including the 14 most important games beginning Feb. 1.
   ”Our morale is fine and it will continue to be fine as long as we work like we’ve been working and continue to do what we have to do,” Savage said. “Wins are going to come. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that wins will start coming. The way we’re working and starting to come together, we’re playing like winners right now.”
   And the Tigers expect that to begin to show on the scoreboard soon.