Saturday afternoon at Penn State, Princeton completed an improbable 81-79 comeback victory in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Penn State's Rec Hall in that team's first visit to its old arena in nearly 18 years.
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|"We just wanted to keep battling, bit by bit, keep chipping away at that lead, and we started making shots and that's huge. Once they start going down, everything just gets a little easier." - Senior captain T.J. Bray
Princeton was down 56-36 with eight minutes and change to go. The team was still down 12 with less than four minutes to go. Here, GoPrincetonTigers.com takes a look back at what happened, how it happened and what it means.
• Princeton began the game missing its first eight 3-pointers. Just a game earlier, Princeton had gone 16-34 from distance at Rutgers, its most 3-pointers against Division I competition since 2002.
• Princeton won despite getting outrebounded 44-22. It was the biggest rebounding disparity for Princeton since the 2005-06 opener against Drexel (46-17), and that game was a loss.
• How did Princeton make up for such a rebounding deficit? Take more shots, and, mostly, hit your free throws. Princeton had four more field goal attempts than Penn State, 62-58, and took three more free throws while both teams shot 73 percent from the line.
• Princeton was able to take more shots than Penn State despite getting outrebounded thanks in part to ball security. Penn State came into the game averaging just 9.2 turnovers a game, less than half of the 20 they had against Princeton. It was the most giveaways for a Penn State team since Michigan turned the Nittany Lions over 20 times in a 69-61 Penn State win on Mar. 1, 2008 in State College.
• Just six of Penn State's 20 turnovers, however, came after Princeton fell behind by 20 for the last time at 56-36 with less than nine minutes left.
• So if it wasn't a bunch of blundered possessions late, how did Princeton do it? Make shots, something the Tigers hadn't done earlier. In the first 28-plus minutes, before Princeton began chipping away at the 56-36 deficit, the Tigers were 14-45 from the field, a cool 31.1 percent. Princeton made 12 of its final 17 field goal attempts, a rate of 70.6 percent.
• After being down 56-36, Princeton made six straight field goal attempts. The team didn't have an empty trip down the floor for three-plus minutes during that stretch, and a 56-36 deficit became 60-50.
• The Penn State timeout, and the subsequent thunderous Ross Travis two-handed dunk to make it 62-50, sought to take the air out of the momentum balloon. It didn't. While Princeton was finding a rhythm, Penn State went cold. The Nittany Lions had no field goals over the last five minutes after the dunk, going 0-3 from the field, 4-6 from the free throw line and committing five turnovers.
• Will Barrett had 16 of the team's 25 points (all 25 were on field goals) that came between 56-36 and 64-61, still with Penn State ahead. Barrett made all six shots he took during the stretch, part of a run of going 6-6 from 3-point range. One of those six was before the score was 56-36 Penn State, and one was the big shot early in the overtime that made it 71-66 Princeton.
• One hugely important play that wasn't a field goal at all made completing the comeback possible. Princeton trailed 66-64 after a split at the line by T.J. Bray. Even if Bray had made both, Penn State still would have had the ball and the lead, just needing to ice the game from the free throw line. In stepped Spencer Weisz, who stole Ross Travis's inbounds pass and, with a loud, packed arena and staring right into the Penn State band, canned both free throw tries to make it 66-66. Princeton survived a 3-point desperation try, and overtime had arrived.
• Penn State's 20th turnover happened early in the overtime and it was key in giving Princeton the momentum in the extra period. Ben Hazel's steal took the ball back for Princeton after Hans Brase's bucket to make it 68-66 gave Princeton its first lead since it was 4-3 Tigers in the early moments. That possession led to Will Barrett's 3 to make it 71-66 Princeton and put Penn State in comeback mode.
• There was a lot of standing around in overtime. Princeton was 3-6 from the field, Penn State 4-6, with all four of those Nittany Lion buckets being zips down the floor by Penn State guards D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier. Meanwhile, the teams were a combined 13-20 from the stripe in the extra period, with Princeton going 8-12 as Penn State hoped to capitalize on Princeton misses.
• The Tigers made two thirds of their tries from the stripe in the OT but missed just enough to keep the door open for Penn State. Down three, Penn State benefited from an empty Princeton trip to the line with 18 seconds to go, and Newbill zipped down the floor again to make it 79-78 Princeton.
• The teams traded free throws until Penn State had 2.9 seconds to get the entire length of the floor and score. A long pass found Tim Frazier in Princeton's defensive end, but the layup didn't go and Princeton held on.
• Princeton's win was its first over a Big Ten school since 1985, against Wisconsin in Arizona. Since then, the Tigers came up short in 11 tries since, against Illinois (0-3), Indiana (0-2), Michigan State (0-2), Penn State (0-3) and Minnesota (0-1). It was the first time Princeton defeated a Big Ten team on their home court since 1955 at Northwestern.
• It was also Mitch Henderson's first victorious trip to Penn State since 2002, a place he had been seven times since with Northwestern as an assistant coach.
• The comeback was reminiscent of an even more incredible one almost 15 years ago, which also involved current Princeton assistant coach Brian Earl. At Penn on Feb. 9, 1999, Princeton fell behind 29-3, 33-9 at half and 40-13 with less than five minutes gone after halftime. The Tigers won that game 50-49.
• Will Barrett's 24 points tied his career high, which he set late last season against Dartmouth.
• A game after tying his career high with 23 points, T.J. Bray didn't make his impact against Penn State with field goals. He found another way to affect the game, however. Dishing out 13 assists, Bray set a Princeton record, bettering the 12 that William Ryan '84 set three times, most recently in 1984. The stat has been kept since the 1974-75 season.
• T.J. Bray didn't have any double-doubles coming into the season, and now he has two, both with points and assists. The first came against George Mason, with 18 points and 10 assists on Nov. 26. That makes him the first Princeton player since Kit Mueller '91, in the 1990-91 season, to have a season with at least two double-double games that were reached via points and assists.
• T.J. Bray's 13 assists moved him past Nate Walton '01 for eighth on the career assist list, which again has only been kept since the 1974-75 season. Bray has 277 assists, just three behind his former coach Sydney Johnson '97.
• The win was Princeton's first over Penn State since 1970. The Nittany Lions had won seven straight since then, in 1971 (twice), 1972, 1974, 2000 (twice) and 2007.
• The win continued Princeton's best start since the 1997-98 season, when the Tigers, led in part by current coaches Mitch Henderson '98 and Brian Earl '99, had a 26-1 regular-season record and finished the campaign with a No. 8 national ranking by the AP.
• The win extended Princeton's win streak to seven games, the longest of the two-plus seasons under Mitch Henderson. It's Princeton's longest win streak since the 2010-11 Tigers reeled off 10 straight.
• Thanks to scoring 50 points in just more than 15 minutes and 29 points in just more than eight minutes, Princeton kept going its streak of scoring at least 66 points in every game since the season began, something not done since 1971-72. That was also the last time Princeton averaged as much as 73.1 points per game at this point in the season.
• Princeton had five players in double figures for the first time since Dec. 22, 2012 against Bucknell.