MENDOTA — If there’s one thing the Princeton Tigers have learned about new coach Kevin Howard, it’s that he’s a man of his word.
When the Tigers took the floor in the second half of Tuesday’s game at Mendota, he told them he wasn’t very pleased with their effort on the floor, and if they didn’t change their ways, he would pull them all out and put in five more players.
And, that’s exactly what he did.
Despite the starters obtaining a comfortable lead, Howard played the rest of the half with a rotation of six new players to post a 55-43 win, their first of the season. Only one starter (Caleb Haring, 3 points) contributed to the Tigers’ scoring effort in the second half (25 points), but all 12 who played scored at least two points.
“I was willing to lose the game, because we weren’t playing hard, weren’t focused, just going through the motions,” Howard said.
While Howard said it was a positive that they won the game, he added, “I would have put freshmen in if I had them on the bench. I put somebody in that would go out there and fight.
“Those guys, who got in the first half for little spurts, those are probably my 7-12 guys. I thought I might as well as see what they can do, because my first six or seven aren’t playing hard. They showed some effort, and they showed some toughness. When they went in, we were up two. They kept the lead and got it up.”
Junior Cole Adams led the Tigers with seven points in the second half, all free throws. Other reserves contributing in the scoring column in the second half were senior Shane Phillips (4), juniors Owen Rossler (5) and Christian Smith (3) and sophomore Tyler Gibson (3).
Howard hoped it was a lesson learned, but would see Friday night when the Tigers took on Kewanee at Prouty Gym.
“We’ll see if we come out and fight, or see if we’re just going to play like we did today,” he said. “We shouldn’t play to our competition, no offense to Mendota. They played really hard. I think we’re a much better team.”
Senior Koel Herjstedt led the Tigers with 13 points, all in the first half. Senior starter Beck Robbins chipped in nine points, also all in the first half.
The Tigers held a comfortable 30-22 lead at halftime, but saw the Trojans make a run, tying the game at 37 at the 2:21 mark of the third quarter after 3-pointers by Joel Escatel and Emiliano Arteaga.
Rossler scored his second straight bucket inside and then made a feed to reserve post Christian Smith for an assist to close out the fourth quarter for 41-37 Tigers lead.
With that momentum, the Tigers went on a 9-2 run to open the fourth quarter. Austin Phillips opened with a pair of free throws and Tyler Gibson hit a trey to make it 46-37. Phillips knocked down a baseline basket and Cole Adams tacked on two free throws to extend the Tigers’ lead to 50-39 with 3:41 left to play.
Mendota fell to 0-5 with the loss.
• Tiger tales: PHS won the sophomore prelim 65-32.