Sports: January 27, 1999
Tigers win the Rainbow Classic
After early struggles, men's basketball enters Ivy schedule on a hot streak
In the sports section of the Honolulu Advertiser there was a four-page supplement promoting the upcoming Rainbow Classic. One feature listed famous alumni from the eight participating schools, to wit: Florida State's Burt Reynolds, Mississippi State's John Grisham, the University of Hawaii's sports anchor Larry Biel. Princeton's honor roll comprised a recent pair of secretaries of state, a former president, and three television actors.
But, hey, wasn't there that guy who was a halloffame college basketball player, an NBA star, and a United States senator?
Well, it's been a season of anomalies and inconsistencies. Who would have thought that Princeton, haven to vertical-leap-impaired outside shooters, could have outrebounded virtually all of its first 12 opponents? Who would have thought that the Tigers, even though missing three star players from last year's 272 team, would visit Lafayette (against whom they were 80 in the '90s by an aggregate margin of 148 points) in their opener, and get blown out?
Who would have imagined that Princeton could hold a six-point lead with a minute to go against a team (Western Illinois) with a threepoint shooting percentage close to zero, and lose? Or that, trailing North CarolinaWilmington by a basket with three seconds remaining, they could miss a threepoint attempt and still win? Or that they could travel to the home court of highly regarded AlabamaBirmingham, play before a national TV audience (albeit on ESPN2), and annihilate the Blazers?
It all boils down, in one way or another, to the system. That's the ballcontrol, pinpoint passing, three-pointer-and-layups, and, above all, tough zone defense system conceived by former coach Pete Carril and refined by current coach Bill Carmody. As complex as the system is, with its myriad passing options and the constantly shifting roles it requires of everyone -- especially the center -- it's awfully difficult to learn. And while freshman Chris Young (6'10"), who starts at center, and Chris Krug (6'9"), who starts next to Gabe Lewullis '99 at forward, may be both big and talented, they are also completely new to the Princeton style.
While the UAB triumph (6957) seemed to indicate that the young Tigers were beginning to master their difficult system, it was followed by two regressions. Princeton fell behind quick and burly Maryland 192 in an ESPN game at the Baltimore Arena, scrambled valiantly to make things competitive, but ultimately fell, 8158. Against Rutgers at Jadwin, they were listless and hopeless. Lewullis, who had averaged 18 points and played nearly every minute of every game despite sore knees, made only one of seven shots against Scarlet Knights in a 6049 loss.
So the Tigers arrived in Honolulu on a two-game losing streak (the first of Carmody's career) and with a tough road ahead. After the December 28 matchup with Florida State (and its power ranking in the mid30s) they would face either 91 Mississippi State or Texas, which had just knocked off #25 Utah.
The Tigers were on their game early against FSU, converting four backdoor plays against the Seminoles' man-to-man defense. Young impressed with a smooth hook shot, while Brian Earl '99 hit a threepointer and a running basket inside the key as Princeton jumped to a 239 lead. When FSU switched to a zone, however, the Tigers appeared flustered and fell into the first of several bouts of suspended animation that would strike during the tournament. This one lasted five and a half scoreless minutes and saw the Seminoles draw to 2321. But after a television timeout the Tigers came storming back with an 112 run.
Princeton's secondhalf drought was almost fatal. Leading 4028 at the 16:41 mark, the Tigers managed only a Young jumper, a Mason Rocca '00 free throw, and a C.J. Chapman '01 layup over the next 13:24 as FSU's triangle-and-two defense stifled Earl and Lewullis, and the Seminoles grabbed a 46-45 lead. It was Princeton's zone that prevailed, however, holding FSU scoreless over the final 5:49. Earl broke the drought with a brilliant driving layup, and Rocca cemented the 50-46 victory by grabbing an offensive rebound in traffic and muscling it into the basket.
The following night, the Tigers played a Texas team fresh off an upset of Mississippi State. Texas came out in a triangleandtwo of its own, and held Lewullis and Earl to nine shots between them in the first half. On offense, the Longhorns repeatedly got the ball to their sevenfoot center, Chris Mihm, trying to get the Tigers' front line into foul trouble. But the Tiger seniors made five of their nine shots, Mihm rarely put the ball near the hoop, and Princeton held a 21-15 lead after the lowestscoring half in Rainbow Classic history.
Texas coach Rick Barnes then tried fullcourt pressure, hoping for turnovers and to tire the Princeton ironmen. He had modest success in the former pursuit, but Earl and Lewullis once again carried the team, combining for 18 of the Tigers' secondhalf points, the most dramatic of which came after Texas had whittled the lead to 44-42 at the 1:59 mark. With a single second on the shot clock, Earl rifled an inbounds pass to Lewullis in the left corner; he drained the threepoint shot, and then it was simply a matter of the Tigers' making their free throws -- something they're doing much better this year.
Speaking to reporters after the championship game, Earl would admit that he had never felt as tired as he did that morning -- that his legs were stiff and unresilient, and he wondered how he'd be able to play that night's game. It was against North Carolina-Charlotte, which had dealt Murray State its first loss of the year, then cruised by host Hawaii to make the final. The 49ers would be playing their third game in four days, the Tigers their third in three.
In fact, it was a terrific game, a classic matchup of complementary teams, and an opportunity for someone new to step in and take charge, as Earl was shadowed constantly by Charlotte's Jobey Thomas and Diego Guevara, while Lewullis was blanketed by the 49ers' 6'7" Galen Young. Chris Young, however, was open and scored eight points as Princeton took a 12-4 lead. Chapman also got some good looks at the basket and hit three big shots from behind the line to keep the Tigers on top in a half that ended 22-19.
Again Princeton faced fullcourt pressure in the second half, and now its fatigue began to show. Five consecutive possessions ended in turnovers or bad shots as Charlotte scored nine straight points to take a 33-26 lead. But Lewullis made two huge three-pointers, and then the Mason Rocca show began. He fed Lewullis for a layup, dominated the defensive boards to deny the 49ers secondchance points, and kept three Princeton possessions alive with monstrous offensive rebounds. With 25 seconds remaining and the score knotted at 43, Young coolly swished two free throws for the lead. Charlotte's final chance ended in a frenzy of bricks, and the Tigers had added the Rainbow Classic to their burgeoning trophy case. "Three close games," said coach Carmody in the wake of a very impressive performance. "If we hadn't pulled it out against Florida State we'd have had to play Murray State, and then we might've been playing our last game for seventh place." Pete Carril couldn't have said it better.
-- Peter Delacorte
Men's hockey leads ECAC, captures Mariucci Classic
Ask a member of the men's hockey team a question that begins, "Are you aware that this is the first time since..." or "Did you know the last time that...," and you'll receive a shrug, maybe a slight nod if you're lucky. "We try not to compare ourselves to teams of the past," says defenseman Steven Shirreffs '99. "We want to go out there and make a name for ourselves."
In that case, any players reading this should skip the next few lines because it's almost impossible not to compare the 1998-99 team, which is currently first in the ECAC, to previous squads. As the team enters the final weekend of the first half of the ECAC schedule, it is already treading on unusual ground. For example...
But before calling the seamstress to order another banner for Baker Rink, keep in mind that the 1996-97 squad started 12-3-2 -- and still finished fifth in the league. "The coaches do a good job of taking it week to week, and day to day," says Shirreffs, who hails from Norwich, Vermont. "They keep us practicing hard each day."
Shirreffs is an integral part of the nation's eighth-ranked team (10-3-1 overall, 6-1-1 ECAC). A Second Team All-America last year, Princeton's first since Cliff Abrecht '86 (there's another comparison), Shirreffs is an imposing 6'2", 221-pound defenseman who enjoys using his size and skills at both ends of the rink. He is tied for the team lead with 10 assists -- eight of which have come while he anchors the power play from the blue line.
In fact, much of the Tigers' success depends on the effectiveness of the power play. At a 20-percent efficiency rate, it is respectable, but as potentially the most feared unit in the league, it could still improve. "The power play is pretty much the same group as last year, but things are not clicking as much as we'd like. Maybe other teams are focusing more on it. Maybe we have to mix it up more," Shirreffs says. Perhaps the unit can take a cue from the penalty kill. After giving up 12 goals on their opponents' first 38 power plays, the Tigers have put up a brick wall and stopped 41 of their opponents' last 45 opportunities.
It was a power-play goal by Hobey Baker '14 Award candidate Jeff Halpern '99 -- the team leader in goals (9), assists (10), points (19), and plus/minus (+9) -- that gave Princeton a 4-3 win against Clarkson to complete a sweep through the North Country. In early December, Syl Apps '99's power-play game winner sparked Princeton to a home-and-home sweep of Yale, which finished first in the ECAC last season. Apps came through again at the prestigious Mariucci Classic in Minnesota over the holidays, picking up both game winners as the Tigers disappointed the host Gophers, 4-1, then dominated Boston University in the final, 3-0, to avenge a humiliating opening-night loss in Boston. Apps was named tourney MVP for a gutsy performance that came less than one week after his grandfather, an NHL Hall of Famer, had died.
Minnesota native Nick Rankin '99, who stopped all 16 Terrier attempts in the final, has formed one half of a solid duo that has emerged to fill the gap left by graduated goaltender Erasmo Saltarelli '98. The other half, rookie Dave Stathos '02, is an aggressive, spirited netminder out of Longueuil, Quebec, who boasts a sterling 1.68 goals-against average. Head coach Don Cahoon, who picked up his 100th victory as Tiger mentor at Minnesota, will need Rankin and Stathos to continue to play well for Princeton to go the distance and finish atop the ECAC standings -- for the first time ever.
-- Mike Jackman '92
Fall sports roundup
Men's cross country
With another stellar season the men's cross country team continued to establish itself as the top program in the northeast. The men again took first at Heptagonals and NCAA Regionals before finishing 17th at the NCAA Championships. Freshman Paul Morrison, continuing his late-season surge, was the top Tiger finisher at the Championships, taking 41st overall. Morrison had the best time of any freshman in the field. Jim Colling '99 and Mike Spence '00 also finished in the top 100.
Women's cross country
The women ended their season by placing fourth in the Mid-Atlantic Regional meet -- their best finish in the last four years. Three Princeton runners placed in the top 25: Heather Onuma '99, Courtney Ebersole '00, and Sarah Hendricks '00. The Tigers finished only four points out of third place.
Sprint [lightweight] Football (2-4)
The sprint football team will remember this season for one moment -- when the Navy place-kicker missed an extra point in overtime and ended the Tigers' 15- game losing streak. The victory was especially sweet for the seniors, who had previously won only one game in their four years on campus. The team squeaked out another tight victory the following week against Cornell, 22-21, before falling 34-6 to Penn in the season's final game.
Men's soccer (8-8-1 overall, 3-4 Ivy league)
The men's team played solid defense but struggled to score goals all year. Their season ended with an uncharacteristic 7-4 loss to Yale -- uncharacteristic both because the offense scored four goals and because the defense gave up seven. Senior midfielder Chris Halupka, who was the team's most consistent offensive threat this season, scored once in the final game of his outstanding college career.
Women's soccer (9-8 overall, 3-4 Ivy league)
Heartbreaking. That's the only appropriate adjective for the women's soccer team. After opening the season 9-2, the team dropped its last six games to finish out of the Ivy race. During the losing streak the team had trouble finishing its scoring chances -- a trait evident during its 4-1 loss to Monmouth when the Tigers outshot the Hawks 22-7 yet kept missing open opportunities in front of the net. The team will return 20 of 26 players next fall and should again challenge for the league title.
Men's water polo (16-8)
After putting together one of the best regular seasons in the history of the program, the men took seventh at the Eastern Championships by beating George Washington University 6-5. Senior captain Oakley Brooks scored two goals in the final game of his college career to help ensure the Tigers would end their season on a winning note. The team should be strong next year, as it's losing only two players to graduation and will return four sophomore starters.