For head coach Courtney Banghart the season is about the process and the daily improvements made, but this process also includes some growing pains as seen Tuesday night’s 74-65 loss to St. Joseph’s.
The loss put the Tigers at 2-3 on the young season and snaps their 21-game home winning streak, marking the program’s first loss at Jadwin Gym since a 78-67 defeat to then-No. 21 DePaul on Dec. 13, 2011.
But for Banghart consecutive losses or snapping a home winning streak is not what’s paramount, it is about challenging this group with some of the nation’s best opponents and preparing for the Ivy League gauntlet.
“I think at this point in the season we have to be a work in progress,” said Banghart. “I thought there was growth in some key areas on the offensive end. We’re not there yet, but it was a step forward which is what we have be doing everyday.”
Princeton opened forcing SJU to miss its first three attempts and scurried to a 4-0 lead, but the Tigers’ opening momentum could not be sustained and St. Joseph’s responded to take a 15-13 advantage at 13:42.
The Hawks expanded their lead to as high as nine over the opening period, before Princeton saw one of its best offensive moments of the game. With halftime looming Princeton responded with an 8-0 run, led by four Alex Wheatley points, to make it a one-point game, 39-38 with 1:15 left.
Similar to its opening pace, the Tigers were grounded and St. Joseph’s countered with a daggering 18-3 run through the 14:39-minute mark of the second half to hold 16 point advantage, 57-41.
Despite the Tigers shooting over 50 percent from the field for much of the contest and finishing at 47.9 (23-for-48) to St. Joe’s 44.8 percent (26-for-58), fouling and turnovers proved to be decisive factors in the loss.
The Hawks went 19-for-23 from the stripe, while forcing 17 Tiger turnovers which they converted into another 19 points. Princeton was also held to nine second chance points off seven offensive boards, as SJU held a slight 35-32 rebounding margin.
While this young Tiger team is still finding their identity, there were definitely several bright spots. Sophomore Wheatley scored a team-high 14 points, going 6-for-8 from the field, and classmate Michelle Miller followed with 13 points. Senior Kristen Helmstetter scored in double figures for the fourth consecutive game, tallying 12 points and a team-high nine boards.
With the early lessons learned on the Eastern Time Zone, Princeton takes off for its longest regular season road trip of the year to the Pacific Northwest to face Portland State on Saturday and Oregon on Sunday.