TEANECK, NJ -- Game time approaches and it is difficult to get a parking space. The visitors are Princeton which will bring a following, but the fact remains, FDU matters once again.
Before Greg Herenda arrived in 2013, you could probably get a space right next to the Rothman Center with five minutes before tipoff. Now, FDU is competitive and a team fans simply want to come out to watch and support.
The faithful, it must be noted, did not head for the exits early on Sunday, even though the Knights were defeated by Princeton, 83-76, in a game that showed a lot of what this team is made of. Following eight minutes of play, Princeton held a 23-6 lead. The Knights managed one field goal. That lone basket did not come in a set offense, but rather on Jahlil Jenkins’ steal and three-quarter-court race to the basket.
“We dug ourselves a huge hole the first half,” Herenda said. “It wasn’t so much of what we didn’t do. They got looks and buried them. That team is a junior-senior team. We started three freshmen. They played like veterans and we played as if we are learning.”
At halftime, FDU was looking at a 49-27 uphill climb. They came out not hoisting three-pointers, but attacking the basket. They went on a 10-4 run in the first four minutes after the intermission to gain momentum and get the deficit to 17. Princeton answered. In the first half, the Tigers’ Devin Cannady did appreciable damage from long range. Over the final twenty minutes, the thorn in FDU’s side was Myles Stephens, active around the basket, continually coming up with a rally-stopping conversion.
“Part of our problem besides not stopping them was our inability to get the offense going,” Herenda said. At the break, FDU had eight field goals and zero assists. Adjustments had to be made.
“At halftime we talked about getting the ball inside to (Mike) Holloway,” a matter-of-fact Herenda stated. “We were able to do that. The first half, we were putting up threes. We made it a point not to come out shooting threes to start the second half. If you have a big deficit and just jack up threes, you will only dig a deeper hole.”
Attention to shot selection, mixed with a few open perimeter shots, got the offense on track. Percentages can catch up. After shooting 7-of-10 from long range in the first half, Princeton cooled off to just 2-of-6 in the final twenty minutes. Credit FDU’s defense as well.
The clock ticked, probably not enough to Princeton coach Mitch Henderson’s liking, but a relentless FDU kept their focus and continued to play hard. At the seven-minute mark, the Tiger lead was 16 points. With four minutes to play, it was 13, with two to go, it was whittled down to eight. The Knights trimmed it even further, to four points with 31 seconds left, but could draw no closer. Princeton sealed it on the free throw line.
“We had 49 second half points,” said Herenda. “But it came down to that first half where we just couldn’t stop them. This is the best I’ve seen them play.”
Cannady wound up with a game-high 22 points. The junior guard hit all six of his three-point attempts with a few from NBA range. Stephens added 21. For FDU, Darnell Edge and Jenkins led the way with 16 points each. On media day, Herenda predicted, “you will love Jenkins.” The 5-10 freshman guard “looks like an eighth-grader,” per Herenda. “He is learning fast and he is disruptive in the passing lane.” Jenkins had a game-high five steals.
Princeton is now 2-3, while FDU falls to 3-3 with a trip to Jersey City and a meeting with Saint Peter’s on tap for Wednesday.
“They are young and so are we,” Herenda said of John Dunne’s Peacocks. “They may be young, but play hard. Whenever we face them it’s like a rock fight. It will be another tough one, no doubt.”