PRINCETON — The Princeton Tigers got back to basics this week, upping the defense on Saturday against Mercer Christian Academy night and forcing 23 turnovers against Bland County on Monday.
It clicked from the very beginning Saturday with a high-profile contest with neighboring Mercer Christian Academy, and yielded a 71-47 win by the Tigers over the Cavaliers.
The head coach of Princeton, Robb Williams, said, “We’ve gotten away from (the pressure defense) the last few games, so we wanted to make sure we got back to Princeton basketball. We told (the players) we were going to turn the heat back up, and we did.”
That translated into eight steals by Princeton in the opening minutes, five of them by speedy Peyton Brown. That in turn produced an 8-0 lead for the Tigers.
Ethan Parsons, who had 24 points and six rebounds for the victors, said, “We come into practice, work our butts off, then come in here and put on a show.”
Princeton went to its bench for a large portion of the second stanza, resulting in an offensive dropoff. The lead was 16 points at halftime as well, 32-16.
The Tigers came out for the third quarter and out scored the Cavaliers 23-15 in the period, and in the final eight minutes, emptied their bench.
Williams said, “In the second half, (I played) literally everybody off the bench, and they all brought some defense to the table for us.”
The Cavaliers continued striving to play their best. That was perhaps exemplified by junior big man Garrett Goings, who worked hard despite his team’s point total.
For Princeton, Brown had just two points, but contributed five rebounds, seven assists and 10 steals. As a team, the Tigers had 21 steals.
On Monday, the Tigers welcomed the Bland County Bears to Ralph Ball Court. Although, the distance between the home courts teams is only a few miles apart, the span of the final score of their boys basketball showdown was considerably greater.
The Tigers forced 23 turnovers and placed all five starters in double-figure scoring on their way to a 71-39 victory, their 10th in 15 games.
The theme of teamwork was emphasized again by the Princeton squad, which shot 54 percent from the floor and restricted Bland County to 17 field goals in 44 attempts.
Elathan Wilborn, a junior guard for Princeton said, “We’ve just got to move the ball, and play as a team, because when we play individual ball, we play bad … But when we play team ball, we’re unstoppable.”
Wilborn put the first two points on the scoreboard with a drive to the hoop half a minute into the action. He ended the contest with 12 points, four rebounds and gritty defense.
The Tigers led for all but seven seconds of the game and held the Bears scoreless for a five-minute span in the middle of the first half, gradually building a 35-23 halftime margin.
At the start of the second half, fans of both teams sat up a little closer to the edge of their seats when the Bears crashed the defensive boards and held the Tigers to 1-for-11 shooting from the field.
Three-pointers from Bland County’s Trey Harden and Noah Payne trimmed the home team’s edge to six, 35-29, in the first three minutes of the third period.
But Princeton again turned up its defense, and the visitors went more than eight minutes without a point. Seven times in that span, the Bears’ offense was one-and-done.
Bears head coach Rich Hankins said, “Coming out for the second half, we had a chance. We cut that (lead) to six … and their pressure really affected us a little bit, and they got out in transition and got a couple of easy buckets. Before you knew it, that lead went to 14 or 15.”
Parsons led all scorers with18 points and pulled off three of the Tigers’ nine steals. Brown, Brayden Quesenberry and Jon Wellman each had 10 points. Wellman also had eight rebounds and Grant Cochran hustled for three steals in the second half.
Dylan Havens led Bland County with nine points. Harden had six points and four rebounds; Gage Hankins had four rebounds and a pair of steals.
The Bears were 1 for 4 at the free throw line. Princeton shot 6 for 11 at the stripe.
The contest between the Tigers and Oak Hill was postponed on Tuesday night due to Oak Hill players down with the flu. That game was rescheduled to Wednesday, Feb. 19. Princeton will face cross-town rivals PikeView in the Big Atlantic Classic at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center tonight
Tom Bone is a freelance reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and the Princeton Times. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org