PRINCETON – Next year, Princeton and Sherrard will compete against each other when they join the Three Rivers Conference. This year, they were just distant opponents with no knowledge of each other coming into Tuesday’s game at Prouty Gymnasium.
With a distance of 70 miles apart and Rockridge being their only common opponent, Princeton got the upper hand this time by taking command of the game early and never trailing in a 54-41 victory.
“We didn’t know anything about them,” said Princeton assistant coach Michael Fredericks, speaking for head coach Jesse Brandt. “It’s tough, they are about an hour and 15 minutes away. I know in practice this week, Jesse said we were just going to go out and play. That is what we did.”
Princeton (6-16) started to take control of the game in the final minute of the first quarter when J.J. Vaccaro was fouled from behind the arc and made all three free throws. Austin Mack followed by stepping through a trap on the baseline and hitting a jumper to make it 14-8.
Aaron Ray then provided a spark off the bench with back-to-back threes to push the Princeton lead to 22-10. Austen Stewart, who was plagued by foul trouble in the first half, gave the home team a lift after Sherrard (4-15) cut the deficit to 24-16, by hitting a three just before the halftime buzzer sounded.
“I think we ran (the play) with four seconds left,” said Fredericks. “We would have liked to get that play off a little bit sooner. We had a nice screen, nice pass and (Austen) was able to finish for us.”
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to get the ball,” said Stewart. “Josh (Keifer) threw it a little low because their big guy got a touch on it. I got it off on time.”
Princeton was able to extend their lead to 40-25 after three quarters behind six points from Keifer, another trey from Stewart and hoops from Mack and Zach Stroud.
Sherrard tried to get back in the game by firing up 18 threes in the final quarter, but they only made four. Mack put the exclamation mark on the game with a break-away one-handed dunk with 1:22 remaining.
Sherrard coach Barry Jackson was disappointed with his team’s lack of aggressiveness against Princeton’s zone defense. Brandt switched to it in the second quarter and stuck with it for most of the game.
“Give the credit to Princeton, they play their zone very well,” said Jackson. “It’s very tight, they are very quick at it and very aggressive at it. We’ve seen it before and we have ran against it with success. We just didn’t do it tonight.”
Princeton had a balanced scoring attack, led by Kieffer with 11 points and Stewart and Mack also in double figures with 10 points each. Lucas Boraas was the top scorer for Sherrard with 11.
• Princeton won the sophomore game 68-43. Three players hit double figures for PHS, led by Jake Reinhardt with 16, Garrett Duffin tallying 13 and Zach Kenny chipping in 10. The Tigers will be idle until traveling to Rock Falls to face Brad Bickett’s Rockets.