When the men’s basketball team lost to Maine in overtime in mid-November, building an eight-point lead in the second half before faltering in the final moments, head coach Sydney Johnson ’97 offered a blunt assessment of his young team: “I don’t see any way to get where we want to get until we close out a game like this.”
Flash forward to Jan. 7, when Prince-ton hosted Lehigh, one of its strongest opponents to date. The Tigers held an 11-point lead midway through the second half, and when the Mountain Hawks began to surge, Princeton countered every challenge.
The visitors cut the lead to four, and center Zach Finley ’10 responded with a layup between two defenders. A Lehigh three-pointer closed the gap to five with less than two minutes remaining, and point guard Doug Davis ’12 drained a three-pointer of his own, pushing the margin back to eight. Princeton made 10 of 12 free throws in the final 1:10 to seal a 73–64 win.
The Tigers executed their offense in pressure situations, and each basket marked a step forward, Johnson said after the game. “They can recall that moment the next time it comes up,” he said. “Players need the results in the game to get some of that confidence.”
Princeton (4–8), which dropped six straight games in December, won the final two contests before its two-week hiatus for final exams, relying on key contributions from forward Kareem Maddox ’11 and guards Marcus Schroeder ’10 and Dan Mavraides ’11. But the catalyst for Johnson’s young team has been Davis, an explosive, diminutive guard who debuted with an eye-popping 25 points against Central Michigan Nov. 14.
A native of Philadelphia, Davis may have been overshadowed in high school, playing at The Hun School of Princeton alongside top recruits Idris Hilliard (St. Joseph’s) and Lance Goulbourne (Vanderbilt). But at Princeton, Davis has sparkled, using slashing drives and double-pump layups to build a team-best 13.8-point scoring average.Princeton’s inexperience is hard to overstate. None of the team’s top four scorers (Davis, Mavraides, center Pawel Buczak ’10, and Maddox) started a collegiate game before this year, and when the Tigers begin Ivy League play Jan. 30 at Dartmouth, only one senior promises to be in the 10-man rotation (co-captain Jason Briggs). To succeed in Ivy games, Johnson said, the Tigers will need to continue playing strong defense and cut mistakes and turnovers on offense. “Everybody knows you so well, and you have to be that much better,” he said. “That’s going to be a real challenge for us.”