Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The return of one of Lafayette’s starting forwards wasn’t enough against a talented Princeton front line. The Tigers, led by Ivy League Player of the Year favorite Ian Hummer, went big and went home victors with a 72-53 victory over the Leopards.
Princeton coach Mitch Henderson went with a big lineup, starting sophomore forward Denton Koon over 6-2 guard Chris Clement, leaving 6-5 T.J. Bray as the shortest member of the Tigers’ starting five.
Lafayette (1-5) had a tough time with that length, making just two of their first 14 shots to open the game and 9-of-28 (32.1 percent) over the opening 20 minutes as Princeton (2-3) stormed out a 19-4 lead and cruised to a 33-23 halftime advantage.
“They came out right from the start, set a tone early,” Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said afterwards. “We were trying to get back in the game, but obviously we never did.”
“You could see that they were going to switch everything and they were going to just try to beat us on the boards and beat us up physically, and that’s what they did,” he added.
Dan Trist, who had missed the last three games for Lafayette with a sprained ankle he suffered in pregame warmups against Kentucky, saw his first action since dropping 30 points in an overtime win against LIU-Brooklyn back on Nov. 12. The Australian native had 10 points and three rebounds but committed a team-high four turnovers, though he said afterwards the ankle wasn’t bothering him.
“I think I just made some poor decisions today,” he said, shaking off the notion that rust played a role in his sub-par game. “I wasn’t active enough, and that was the sum of it for me today.”
Hummer had a career-high 28 points on a very efficient 12-of-16 from the floor, adding seven rebounds, five assists and four steals against four turnovers. The versatile 6-foot-7 forward was a matchup nightmare whether Lafayette went zone or man-to-man, using an array of moves to get to the basket and showing why he’s the best player in the Ivy League now that Zack Rosen has moved on.
“When you have a guy that’s hot, like I was in the first couple minutes of the game, your teammates look for you,” Hummer said. “I thought we did a really good job playing inside-out first, I think that’s the key to our game. We’re a solid 3-point shooting team but playing inside is definitely where our strength is.”
Overall, the Tigers held a 39-23 advantage on the boards and an 44-24 edge on points in the paint against an overmatched Leopards frontcourt. Levi Giese had seven points and seven rebounds but no other Lafayette player had more than Zach Rufer’s four; Princeton had five players with four-or-more boards.
“They crashed the boards very hard,” Trist said. “We missed a lot of layups today…we didn’t take it up strong and they were big inside so I think it bothered us a bit today.”
Helped by a 6-of-10 performance from 3-point range, Princeton shot an efficient 29-of-50 (58.0 percent) from the floor while holding Lafayette to just 35.2 percent (19-of-54), including just 3-of-15 (20.0 percent) from beyond the arc. Coming into the game, the Tigers had been allowing opponents to shoot 49.0 percent from 3-point range, which was one of the worst rates in the country.
“We wanted to push the ball more, we wanted to extend our defense a little more–we did neither one of those things,” O’Hanlon said. “But it’s hard to extend the defense when you’re not scoring.”
Lafayette starting guard Tony Johnson was the only other member of the Leopards in double figures with 10 points, though it took him 12 shots to do so. Only Geise (3-of-4) and Alan Flannigan (2-of-3, four points) had shooting percentages above 33.3 percent for Lafayette.
The Leopards take the court next on Monday night when they travel to Monmouth University (3-3) to take on the Hawks.