So was grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and beating the Phoenix on the glass by seven boards overall. Hitting shots, however, didn't come so easily for Princeton, and Elon held on for a 56-55 win when Douglas Davis's 3-point attempt in the closing seconds rimmed out.
"Any time you get 19 offensive rebounds and you shoot 29 free throws, you like your chances," Mitch Henderson, the Franklin C. Cappon-Edward G. Green '40 head coach of Princeton men's basketball, said. "(It was) a pretty disappointing result tonight."
Princeton led only briefly on the night when a Mack Darrow layup-plus foul gave the Tigers a 7-5 edge with little more than five minutes gone in the game. A 13-0 run turned a tie game into a 28-15 lead with 3:40 to play before halftime, and the Tigers spent the rest of the night trying to whittle the deficit away.
Princeton shot 31.3 percent from the field in the first half, making 10 of 32, to 52.2 percent for Elon (3-1), which hit 12 of 23. The Phoenix cooled off to hit 38.1 percent of their shots after the break, making 8 of 21, but Princeton improved only slightly, hitting 9 of 26 for a 34.6 percent clip. That included no 3-pointers on five tries for the Tigers in the second half. Princeton was 2 of 8 from distance on the night while limiting Elon to 4 of 7 in that category.
The defense pleased Henderson, but it wasn't enough against Elon.
"It was unfortunate with opportunities that we had that we couldn't pull it out because our defense was so good. They had (23) points in the second half. That's good enough to win you the game," Henderson said. "Every possession matters so much, and it's going to matter for this team in particular. ... That hurt us. It's hard to come back and win, but our defense kept us in the game."
Three times, Princeton cut the deficit to one point as the midway mark of the second half drew near, but Elon gained a little breathing room on each occasion.
Even though the Phoenix scored their last points with 3:57 to play on a Sebastian Koch 3-pointer, Princeton came up one point short in its rally. During that final stretch, Princeton went 2 for 5 from the field and 2 for 6 from the free-throw line.
Elon had the ball with 40 seconds left after Hummer made both free throws to cut the Phoenix lead to one at 56-55, but Princeton regained the ball with 13 seconds left after Elon's Austin Hamilton committed a turnover on an errant pass out of bounds as the shot clock wound down.
That gave the Tigers one last possession to take the lead for good.
"We wanted to post up Ian," Henderson said of the final possession. "He made the right decision. He kicked it out and I thought we were going to get a nice look for Doug. While the last shot was disappointing, I thought the game was lost in a couple different ways. The game was lost in the first half and on the free throw line."
Davis, who made the most important buzzer-beater he has taken while in a Princeton uniform by nailing the shot that sent the Tigers to the 2011 NCAA Tournament, finished with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting and 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. Hummer, Princeton's leading scorer, put up 21 shots and saw five fall with the Elon defense keyed on him all game. The junior finished with 18 points including making 8 of 15 from the free-throw line.
Hummer was not alone in his free-throw struggles and only Davis, who made his sole try, had better than a two-thirds success rate at the line Tuesday night. Elon opened the door for Princeton by making just 12 of 23 for a 52.2 percent clip, but the Tigers didn't take advantage, making 15 of 29 for a 51.7 percent rate.
"It must be a concern for all of us, and it is," Henderson said. "We're going to pull out of this, with the free throws. It's going to work. I know we're going to make them in big games. Tonight, they didn't go down. I think if you can make a couple of those, it's a completely different game once you get that lead."
The Tigers played the final 9:24 of the game in the double bonus with Elon having drawn its 10th foul, but made just 5 of 12 from the line over that span.
The loss drops Princeton to 1-3 on the young season, Henderson's first as the head coach after 11 years at Northwestern as an assistant. Two of Princeton's losses, this one and to N.C. State six days ago, have come by a combined three points.
"Fortunately we're in a position right now where we're still finding out a bit about who we're going to be," Henderson said with 12 games left to play before the Ivy League schedule begins. "We had many opportunities to get back in that game, we just couldn't grab the lead."
Hummer and Davis have been in double digits in scoring in all four games, but those account for eight of Princeton's nine double-digit scoring efforts on the season. Mack Darrow, with 11 against Buffalo, had the other.
"Ian has a lot of gifts and so does Doug, but I think those two know that they're not going to do it by themselves," Henderson said.
As the search for a consistent third scoring option continues, freshman Denton Koon had a seven-point night that saw him more than double his point total from the previous three games. Koon also grabbed five offensive rebounds and seven in total after he entered the game with two rebounds in all this season.
"We've got to get him in there. He's helping us," Henderson said of Koon. "I saw him around the rim. He's doing competitive things to keep us in the game. That's what we've seen from him in practice and I think Denton's going to be a guy we can count on in a number of different ways."
As the pre-conference schedule continues, Princeton will take two days away from competition and head to Bucknell for a Friday game against the defending Patriot League champions to start a three-day run at the TicketCity Legends Classic subregional in Lewisburg, Pa. The Tigers will face Morehead State, another fellow 2011 NCAA Tournament team, Saturday before taking on West Alabama Sunday.
Wednesday, however, will be no day off for the Tigers.
"We're going to go to work tomorrow, that's for sure," Henderson said.