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Princeton shows it can win with defense without Devin Cannady

The Tigers have now won six straight.

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Princeton showed it can win without Devin Cannady.

The Tigers’ senior guard was arrested a few weeks ago after an incident with police at a WaWa. The school indefinitely suspended Cannady, the fifth highest scoring player ever at Princeton, and since then he’s been on the sidelines. He wore a black suit on the bench against Columbia on Friday night as his teammates put on a defensive clinic and shut down the Lions on their way to a 55-43 victory.

“We’ve not had him here for a few weeks, so we’ve got a plan going forward for that and we got an opportunity to do that a little bit of that last weekend,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said. “It’s the same. We want to share the ball. Keep moving the ball on offense. We know that our calling card has got to be our defense.”

The win secured Princeton (11-5, 3-0 Ivy League) sole possession of first place for at least 24 hours. Only the top four teams will make it to the Ivy League Tournament at Yale during the weekend of Selection Sunday, so it’s imperative to rack up league wins, especially road ones, whenever possible.

Princeton allowed just 17 points during the first half, as the Tigers built a commanding 34-17 lead. The length of Myles Stephens, Ryan Schwieger, and Jaelin Llewellyn bothered Columbia’s guards, while Jerome Desrosiers and Richmond Aririguzoh beat up the Lions in the paint. The Tigers concentrated on taking Columbia’s perimeter game away, and it worked. The Lions didn’t hit a three-point shot until Jake Killingsworth hit one with 16:35 remaining in the game. Columbia shot just 2-18 from three overall.

The offense did struggle at times for the Tigers. Princeton committed 15 turnovers, a number of which seemed to be just misplays of relatively easy opportunities. Princeton also struggled from beyond the arc, going just 4-20 from three.

“We were really careless with the ball and it could’ve hurt us,” Henderson said. “It will on the road if you’re not valuing the ball.”

But the Tigers found enough ways to manufacture offense. Stephens has taken on a larger burden on the offensive end since Cannady was suspended. He took nine shots in just 19 minutes in Princeton’s tuneup against Wesley on Sunday. Last night, the senior guard scored 17 points on 17 shots against the Lions and also grabbed 13 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.

“I came here to play defense,” Stephens said. “I knew that’s my job night in and night out and that’s the number one thing on my mind. Offense comes with that. I know when I get my defense going that gets our team going on defense and with that comes our offense.”

Princeton also received some unexpected contributions from Schwieger. The 6-foot-6 sophomore has struggled to get consistent playing time this season, but he started against the Lions and looked great. He used his size to get inside against smaller Columbia defenders and scored 15 points thanks in part to shooting 7-8 from the free throw line.

“I have to take sort of the heat for that,” Henderson said about Schiewger’s limited minutes. “We’ve been kind of having him in and out of then lineup. All we’ve been saying to him is play with confidence. I just thought he was terrific.”

The emergence of the sophomore gives Henderson another long, versatile player to add to his rotation. While it’s a completely different look than a sharpshooter like Cannady, it’s reminiscent of how the entire Ivy League is trending.

“Our league is becoming that analytic lab,” Columbia head coach Jim Engles said. “Everybody is long, athletic. Everybody is taking away threes. That’s sort of the way the league is going. They’re sort of built like everybody else now. That’s where we’re trying to go.”

Another bright spot for Princeton was the play of Aririguzoh. The junior center already has more points this season than he did in his first two seasons combined. He added to that production with seven points and 11 rebounds against the Lions. The emergence of Aririguzoh gives the Tigers a legitimate post threat around which they can space out their offense. He also had four offensive rebounds that kept possessions alive.

Columbia is dealing with the loss of its own key player. Mike Smith has been out since injuring his knee in early December against Bryant. He will miss the rest of the season and then play his final season in blue and white in 2019-20. Columbia has put up some strong offensive performances since their start point guard went down, but his absence leaves Jim Engles without a lot of options to jumpstart the offense.

Despite some foul trouble, Patrick Tape scored 12 points in 25 minutes for the Lions, but Columbia needs scoring from its backcourt — typically Quinton Adlesh and Gabe Stefanini — to compete in the Ivy League.

Princeton put Stephens, the Ivy League’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016-17, on Stefanini and Llewellyn on Adlesh and shut the guards down. The two players combined to shoot just 7-26 from the field, and Stefanini also committed seven turnovers.

“I thought Stefanini last week had a terrific game against Cornell and [Stephens] was just all over him,” Henderson said. “And [Llewellyn] on Adlesh, those two guys can really hurt you.”

Columbia tried to get back into the game in the second half, with some stifling defense of its own, but the Lions couldn’t hit enough shots to get any closer than seven points with 10:26 remaining.

“I think we just realized the first half we came out really sluggish, with not a lot of conviction or energy,” Tape said. “So I think the second half we just knew that to get ourselves back in the game and make it competitive we had to come out with fire. We did, but we just didn’t sustain it long enough.”

Princeton will look to move to 4-0 in Ivy League play on Saturday as they travel to Cornell, while Columbia caps off a tough weekend by hosting Penn.