Exclusives: The Varsity Typewriter
a PAW web exclusive column by Patrick Sullivan '02 (email:
March 13, 2002:
Ed Persia 04 shines in his
final season game
A squeaker in Kentucky gives Princeton 66-65 loss
By Patrick Sullivan '02
Ed Persia has an affinity for making the SportsCenter highlights.
In Princetons nail-biting 65-66 loss to Louisville in the
opening round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) last night,
the scrappy sophomore guard from Beaumont, Texas, drilled three
consecutive treys with three minutes and change remaining in the
second half, pulling the Tigers to within two points at 55-57. Then,
with just 19 seconds remaining, Persia converted on freshman center
Dominick Martins backdoor pass, giving Princeton a one-point
The 1 a.m. SportsCenter recorded all Persias heroics in its
recap of the game. Speaking as a Tigers fan and a basketball fan:
boy was that highlight real sweet!
Unfortunately, the story continues. With 5.3 seconds remaining,
Louisville guard Reece Gaines streaked the length of the court and
somehow engineered an impressive double-clutch lay-up, stealing
an upset victory from the Tigers, and in the process, stealing the
thunder from Persias perfect performance.
Persias 11 points on 4-4 shooting came in the
last 10 minutes of the game, which ironically, were the only 10
minutes that he played.
This also story continues, however.
Persia appeared on SportsCenter last season, featured during a recap
of Princetons first-round loss to North Carolina in the NCAA
tournament. Though the Tigers received a sound Tar Heel thumping,
the then-freshman guard played beautifully, scoring a Princeton-leading
16 points on 6-11 shooting. Like his performance against Louisville,
Persia drained three consecutive three-pointers in the second period
of that game, forcing the Tar Heels to call time-out. And like this
year, SportsCenter got it on tape.
Give the diminutive point guard credit: Hes a "money
player, bay-bee," as Dick Vitale would say. He loves the pressure
of the limelight, and his game responds favorably. But "diminutive,"
you say? Thats right, in my opinion Persia epitomizes the
David-beat-Goliath attitude that characterizes Princeton postseason
play for as long as I can remember. Whether in the Big Dance or
merely in the NIT, few people count on the Tigers to win. "Theyre
just too small, too slow, too
white to be effective,"
Persia might only tip the scales at a mere 180 pounds, but within
this six-foot, one-inch ball player is a scrappiness that many far
more gifted college athletes lack. I dont focus on Ed for
any specific reason, mind you. He only serves as an example of the
heart of this particular basketball game.
Consider the events of the past week. Princeton entered the Palestra
in Philadelphia last Tuesday with a half-game lead for the Ivy League
championship. Forty minutes and one solid defeat later, Penn forced
a three-way tie for first place spoils. Two days later, Princeton
would return to the hostile Palestra, this time facing Yale in a
must-win playoff game. Instead, the Bulldogs dealt Persia and company
a stunning 16-point blowout loss, ending Princetons hopes
of facing Penn again, this time for outright claim to the Ivy Leagues
one NCAA tournament bid.
Despite effectively giving away its claim to league spoils, the
Tigers regrouped and spent the weekend practicing, all the while
awaiting an NIT bid. When the dust settled on "Selection Sunday,"
Princeton drew Louisville. At Louisville.
Did I mention that Rick Pitino, a longtime University of Kentucky
and former Boston Celtics coach, runs the show for the Cardinals?
Or that Louisville averages 76.8 points per contest and put
up 110 during one game this season? (By comparison, the Tigers average
a paltry 59.8 points per game.) Did you know that Louisville, a
middling team in the powerhouse Conference USA, handed the University
of Cincinnati, a number one seeded team in the NCAA tournament,
one of its three losses for the season? Given these unbalanced numbers,
it should come as no surprise that the Cardinals leading scorer
averages 21.1 points each night. That, sports fans, more than doubles
the average 9.7 of senior Mike Bechtold, Princetons
leading offensive weapon.
On paper, all this spells blowout. However, since Coach John Thompson
III continuously works to instill confidence in his youthful team,
the Tigers may have been outmatched against Pitinos Cards,
but they played as only a Princeton team could: with a heart far
superior to their size, speed or skill.
Chew on these numbers. Princeton shot 12-25 from beyond the arc
(.480), 23-45 overall (.511), and 7-10 from the charity stripe (.700).
Louisville, by contrast, shot 7-19 from three-point range (.368),
19-44 from the field (.431) and 21-30 from the line (also .700).
Additionally, Bechtolds 24 points proved to be the games
highest tally; he even outscored Gaines, the Cardinal sharpshooter.
Free throws proved to be the only advantage that tipped the scales
in favor of Louisville; Princeton attempted 20 less shots from the
line, and was plagued by fouls in the second half.
Rather than being "blown from the water," as I pessimistically
predicted to my roommates before the game, Princeton played with
finesse and poise, even in front of the Cardinal-crazy home crowd
of 11,128 at Freedom Hall. A shorter, slower, less talented (though
albeit much smarter) basketball team almost silenced Freedom Hall
in the characteristically "David-beats-Goliath" style
of true Tiger hoops.
And they would have, had the game ended 5.3 seconds sooner.
PS: Congratulations on four great years to seniors Mike Bechtold,
Ahmed El-Nokali, and Conor Neu
You can reach Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.