PRINCETON – Add another chapter to the Bureau Valley and Princeton boys’ basketball rivalry.
The two teams have played in some memorable games in the past, and Tuesday night’s 54-50 victory for the Storm at Prouty Gymnasium was no exception.
After falling behind by 16 points at halftime, the Tigers clawed their way back into the game, cutting the deficit in half by the end of the third quarter, and then tying the game, at 48 apiece, on a Cole Evenson layup with 1:30 remaining.
The Storm fought off the comeback attempt by hitting enough free throws down the stretch and breaking the Tigers full-court pressure when they needed to most, getting a Tommy Johnston layup with four seconds remaining to secure the win on Princeton’s Senior Night.
“We came out with a bang in the beginning because we were pretty excited for this game,” said Storm guard Parker Neuhalfen, who had a game-high 23 points on 8 of 12 from the field. “We kind of let off and went passive in the second half and they made a run. We have to be more poised when they pressure us.”
“It felt nice winning here on their home floor on their Senior Night,” said Storm guard Bryce Hansen, who scored eight points off the bench. “The team really persevered well in the end.”
That perseverance was tested late in the game. Princeton’s full-court pressure forced the Storm into the three costly turnovers in the final two minutes of the game and in a span of 28 seconds, the Tigers got a hoop and a foul off a steal by Zach Stroud, one of two free throws after a steal by Evenson, and then Evenson’s score that tied the game at 48.
“Credit to coach (Jesse) Brandt and the Princeton boys,” said Storm coach Jason Marquis. “They ran (their press) very well, they rotated very well. We didn’t get to some critical areas against a defense like that, and that will hurt you. I thought we were available but not in crucial areas.”
Brian Lange knocked down three of four free throws on consecutive possessions for the Storm, but Stroud came right back with a drive to the hoop to cut it to 51-50 with 27 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing inbound pass, Princeton’s pressure almost forced another BV turnover, but a wild scramble for a loose ball gave the Storm possession back. Princeton then failed to foul and let 14 seconds run off the clock before Hansen found Johnston wide open under the hoop for an uncontested basket with four seconds left to make it 53-50.
“We wanted to trap in the backcourt and foul once they got in the frontcourt,” said Brandt. “I think we got caught up in the action a little bit. We talked about two guys we wanted to foul and neither of those guys had it, but at the time we have to do a better job of just fouling whoever gets it and taking our chances.”
Playing in front of a postseason atmosphere with both student sections bantering back and forth, the Storm came out strong to start the game, doing damage from the three-point stripe.
The Storm’s first four field goals of the game were three’s as they hit five of eight attempts in the first half from behind the arc. Neuhalfen and Hansen each hit two three’s apiece in the opening half. Hansen was a big lift off the bench for the Storm with all eight of his points coming in the first two quarters.
The Storm fell behind 2-0 to start the game, but never trailed after that. Neuhalfen made all five of his three-point attempts in the game and scored all 10 of BV’s points in the third quarter.
“He’s only a sophomore so he’s got a bright future,” said Brandt of Neuhalfen. “We’ll have to contend with him for a couple more years. We tried to keep the ball away from him and trap him a little bit so he would get rid of it. I thought we did a decent job of that in the second half. Looking back on it, maybe we should have done that a little bit more in the first half.”
Stroud and Austin Mack led PHS with 13 points each in their final home game of their careers. All five of Princeton’s starters are seniors.
“It was nice to fight back but we should have came out with the same energy in the first half as we did in the second,” said Stroud, who was one of seven seniors recognized on Tuesday. “That was overall the difference in the game.”
The rivalry will continue to grow next year when Princeton joins the Three-Rivers Conference and the two teams will be conference foes for the first time.
* Princeton won the sophomore contest 56-39. Garrett Duffin had 15 points to lead PHS. The Storm’s Josh Mead was the game’s high scorer with 17 points.