PRINCETON-- The last time Princeton and Mount Carmel met, the Aces did a great job defensively to try and take away the Tigers top players. Austin Rager dropped 30 points but the Aces fell just short. Tuesday they met again, this time with the game counting towards the Big Eight standings.
The start of the game felt eerily similar to the first meeting. Mount Carmel came in with a great gameplan and executed early. However it was a special night for Princeton senior Zach Dove, who scored his 1,000th career point, and 27 on the evening, to lead Princeton to a 57-54 win.
The Aces did everything they could to take away Stephan Wilkerson, as well as both Dove brothers, Matt and Zach. This, coupled with patient and efficient offense, allowed Mt. Carmel to get out to early leads of 12-8 after one quarter, and 23-22 at the break. Zach Dove had nine at half, while Beau Stipp had six to pace Mount Carmel.
"Similar to how we wanted to play it last time, we wanted to make it as tough as possible on the post players," Buss said. "I thought we did a good job on Stephan (Wilkerson), he's such a good player. Give (Jurrien) Ballard credit, he hit a bunch of tough shots tonight."
That he did, as the sophomore Princeton point guard got hot early in the third quarter. He scored eight of the first 12 in the frame for Princeton, including two 3-pointers, and the Tigers were able to jump out to a 12-5 run in the first four minutes of the quarter. This gave them a 34-27 lead.
"We've got other weapons. We felt like we could play 3-on-3 against them, or 4-on-4, and get the ball inside, and not have to force it to Stephan. I hate that for him, but we told him he could win the game for us defensively, and I thought he did a much better job with (Austin) Rager later on," Haywood said.
Rager was a point of emphasis as Mount Carmel's most consistent offensive player, but the junior also had 30 the last time the two teams met. He, along with Bret Doan and Luke Gould got going late in the third quarter, trying to match the production of Dove and Ballard.
It was punch for punch, and after a Doan buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third, it was 44-40 Mount Carmel. The Aces were smelling the upset. But Princeton settled in again at the beginning of a quarter to begin the fourth, going on a 12-3 run to give themselves another five-point cushion with less than four minutes to go.
Rager and Dove traded late 3-pointers, and Mount Carmel down five with less than a minute to go was forced to begin
fouling. Princeton couldn't convert at the line a couple times, keeping the Aces in the game. With the score at 57-54 and less than 10 seconds to play, the Tigers missed another free throw.
The rebound was being fought for, but as it was the referees awarded Tyler Buss a timeout. After a brief discussion, they determined that neither team had possession, so it went to the possession arrow, which favored Mt. Carmel. This gave the Aces around eight seconds to draw up a play for a 3-pointer to tie.
Doan got a great look at what would've been yet another buzzer-beater, but it fell short and Princeton was able to hang on for the win. Rager scored 16, Gould 15 to lead the Aces. Ballard finished with 14 to compliment the 27 from Dove.
The game was everything you can ask for from two good high school basketball teams.
"It felt like a trip to the dentist. It was a grinder. It felt like a sectional game. I'm really happy with our guys, we took their best shot. They shot it well. We missed free throws down the stretch, we gave them a chance. But we were able to hang on and get the win," Haywood said.
The Aces will hope that games like this keep building their confidence moving forward, as they have gotten back to
winning ways lately. They'll take a 6-10 record into a Friday game against Boonville.
"They're figuring some things out. We've won some games, won some games in some different ways. They're a group that's growing up. But again, it's still a loss, so we got to turn it around and get ready to go for Boonville on Friday," Buss said.
As for Princeton, they'll have to get by another rival Friday if they want to keep their eight-game win streak
alive. This time it's Gibson Southern, another team they have beaten already, 60-48 during the Toyota Classic. That game will tip at 7 p.m. Friday at Tiger Arena.
"I mean, we're off for a week until Washington after that. There's no reason to hold anything in, you're off for a week. We've got to give it everything we've got. It's going to be another grinder, and we kind of welcome those I think now. We're buying into the fact that we can win those possession type games," Haywood said.