Three Thoughts: Princeton 64, Rider 58

It wasn’t perfect, but Princeton navigated a difficult start to the second half and pulled out a 64-58 victory over Rider on Friday night at Jadwin Gymnasium. Here are three thoughts from the game:

1) Amir Bell looks like Princeton’s point guard of the present (and future): The 6’3″ freshman from East Brunswick, NJ started the game at point guard and had three assists against just one turnover. He also grabbed four rebounds and scored seven points in 30 minutes. It wasn’t the box score numbers that were most impressive. Bell also showed good length and athleticism defensively along the perimeter and made some heady plays. With 4:55 remaining in the game Princeton led by a point when Bell missed a three from the left wing. It carromed off the rim, but Bell followed the play and somehow got the ball out to Spencer Weisz, whose three-point play gave the Tigers a four-point lead.

2) Teddy Okereafor and Zedric Sadler are a dynamic duo in the backcourt for Rider: The combination of Sadler and VCU transfer Okereafor was a bright spot for the Broncs. Okereafor scored 16 points (on 14 shots) and wasn’t afraid to drive to the basket or step out for threes. He showed good anticipation skills. He’ll definitely draw some more free throws in the future too.

“If my team needs me to do that. If they need me to score at times I’ll score. If they need me to pass I’ll pass,” Okereafor said.

Sadler was the yin to Okereafor’s yang. The crafty junior guard did a lot of his damage in the no-man’s land between the three-point line and the paint. He shot 4-6 from the field and scored nine points with four assists and four rebounds. Both of Sadler’s misses came on threes and he showed excellent touch in the mid-range. The Broncs now need to get their third starting guard, Jimmie Taylor, on track. Taylor didn’t score in the first half and finished with only six points on 3-9 shooting. Rider made its biggest run of the game when Taylor was making shots. If all three of those players are clicking they’ll be able to matchup with any backcourt in the MAAC.

3) The Princeton defense is sneaky good: Rider scored only 0.94 points per possession as the Tigers defense locked down the paint and forced 11 turnovers. Even though Rider was going to the basket, and scored 36 points in the paint, the Broncs shot just four free throws in the entire game. That low total, plus just 6-17 shooting from three, helped Princeton put up a strong defensive performance.

“I thought we were aggressive. I don’t know how we shot four free throws,” Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said. “We drove the ball. There were several times I thought something should’ve been called. Of course I’m not blaming the refs, but four free throws, that’s absurd.”

The Tigers threw a number of different looks at Rider on Friday night, including a full-court press and half-court trap, along with their typical half-court defensive looks. The size of 6’8″ Hans Brase and 6’10” Pete Miller make things difficult for opponents in the paint, even if they get in there. Weisz is listed as a forward, but at 6’4″ has quick hands in the paint. Princeton should get even better defensively as the season goes on, which wouldn’t be surprising since the Tigers were the second best defense during Ivy League play in 2013-14.

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