PRINCETON — The Princeton Tigers and Rochelle Hubs were locked in a back and forth game that saw 18 lead changes and nine ties in a non-conference matchup Tuesday night at Prouty Gym.
Princeton had a 50-39 deficit with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter when their man-to man defense began to force turnovers and frustrate the Rochelle offense as they went on a 20-9 run to finish out regulation.
“We’ve had trouble closing out games,” said Rochelle coach Tim Thompson. “We have a young team, and we tried to work the ball a lot but they forced turnovers, and they started to hit baskets.”
With 2.2 seconds left on the clock, Princeton ran an inbounds play from the sideline and getting lost in the mix was 5-11 senior guard J.J. Vaccaro, who popped out on the baseline and drained the game tying 3-pointer as time expired knotting the game at 59-59 going into overtime.
“Vaccaro had been struggling on offense,” said Princeton coach Jesse Brandt. “It was big for him to hit that shot in the corner.”
Princeton’s Garrett Duffin’s 13 points in the fourth quarter weren’t enough for the Tigers to outlast their former conference rival. The junior guard seemed as if nothing would stop him in the second half and overtime as 25 of his game high 37 points came in the second half and overtime.
The Tigers fell just short as Rochelle’s Tyler Joyce banked his fifth three pointer of the game in with five seconds left in overtime to give Rochelle a 67-66 victory.
Duffin was 13 for 21 from the field for a 61.9 percent shooting performance.
“Duffin was sick and didn’t practice yesterday so he didn’t get the start tonight but when he got in he just took over the game. He made steals, made some other great plays and hit big shots,” Brandt said, “He did a really great job.”
Tyler Joyce added 21 points to lead the Hubs and Vaccaro added 21 points on 8 of 15 shooting for Princeton.
Princeton jumped out to an early 20-12 lead by 11 first quarter points by senior guard Vaccaro who seemed to be everywhere on the court making steals and scoring the first 5 points for Princeton.
Rochelle came out strong in the early going of the second quarter jumping to a 25-22 lead as they went on a 13-2 run that included three 3-pointers, two of which came from Rochelle leading scorer Joyce.
“He (Joyce) has an excellent shot and he’s been doing well with 3-point shots, when he’s open for a three we try to get him the ball,” said Thompson.
The last four minutes of play in the first half saw Princeton and Rochelle trading buckets with Duffin stealing an inbounds pass and passing it to Vaccaro who put in an easy layup to round out first half scoring as Princeton led 31-30.
The game seemed up for grabs until the Hubs started to pull things together in the middle of the third as Joyce was fouled on a layup and made the one to take a 35-33 lead, a lead which they would build on until it was 39-50 at the 6:38 mark.
“Hopefully we use this game as motivation because Rochelle has a good program; Hopefully they come out in practice tomorrow and Thursday, we get better and are ready to go for the rest of the season,” said Brandt.
Notes: The Kittens took the first of the two games with a score of 70-53, led by Jake Reinhardt’s 27 points. Princeton will be in action again Friday at Orion.