After losing seven straight games, including six on the road or at neutral courts, the men’s basketball team returned home to play Manhattan Dec. 16, hoping to recapture some of the success it had in two early-season wins at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers started well, sinking more than half of their shots in the first half and taking a 13-point lead shortly after halftime, but the Jaspers responded in the final 12 minutes, making 13 of their last 17 shots in a 71–66 comeback win.
Manhattan’s defensive pressure derailed what had been one of Princeton’s sharpest offensive games of the year. On the opposite end, the Tigers contested every shot but could not break the Jaspers’ rhythm. “In key moments, we just didn’t get the stops that we needed,” head coach Sydney Johnson ’97 said afterward. “Those are the kinds of games that show up in our league as well, so we hope that we’ll nip that.”
Princeton’s struggles continued with losses at Marshall Dec. 22 and at Monmouth Dec. 30. The 10-game losing streak tied a school record.
When the Tigers are playing well, the offense alternates between two complementary strengths: the inside scoring of center Zach Finley ’10 and the outside shooting of Lincoln Gunn ’10, Noah Savage ’08, and Kyle Koncz ’08. If opponents try to double-team Finley, Princeton’s 3-point shooters find open shots. And when the defense contests shots on the perimeter, Finley finds more breathing room near the basket.
For the first 30 minutes of the Manhattan game, Princeton found success on both fronts: Finley scored 17 points, and the Tigers made six 3-point shots. “With varying degrees of success, we’ve tried to do that all year long,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked a lot about having a balanced team.”
Princeton’s most valuable contributors have been Finley and Gunn, two sophomores who joined the starting lineup as freshmen last season. Finley has been patient but assertive on the post, leading the Tigers with 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game through Jan. 1. He also has shown flashes of dominance on defense, blocking seven shots against Chaminade Nov. 21. Gunn, a prolific shooter, has improved his dribbling and passing. He has led the team in assists and is close behind Finley in scoring and rebounding (9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game).
While Princeton’s early losses included a few blowouts — a 22-point loss to Duke Nov. 19, a 23-point defeat at Penn State Dec. 12 — the Tigers also have been competitive, losing three games by five points or fewer. With the exception of a lackluster trip to Evansville Dec. 5, where the team managed only 32 points and lost by 21, Johnson said he has been happy with Princeton’s effort. “Clearly, you want a win to confirm some of the good things that these guys are doing, and it just hasn’t come,” he said.