By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Forty-three points was nice. The win was nicer.
Aaron Ferguson scored 43 points, but it was Jay Palmer who hit a fadeaway jumper in the lane with 1.5 seconds on the clock, leading Princeton to a thrilling 77-75 double-overtime win over Winfield on Saturday afternoon at Coach Ralph Ball Court.
“It was definitely a good win,” said Ferguson, who also had 22 rebounds for the Tigers. “It would have been kind of devastating if I had scored that many points and lost.”
It was Palmer who took the final shot for the Tigers, which took a timeout with 33.6 seconds left, and the plan was simple: Get the ball to Ferguson.
“Aaron Ferguson had a big game, he had 43 and that was what our game plan ended up being,” Palmer said. “They double teamed on him and it was hard to get it down there to him.”
That is when Palmer dribbled from the left side of the charity stripe, drove into the lane around a screen from Zen Clements, and put up a shot while falling away from the basket. It banked in with 1.5 seconds remaining on the clock.
“I took a drive and went around Zen Clements’ screen and just shot the shot and it went in,” Palmer said. “It was strongly contested, when I first went up it didn’t seem like it (was going in) so I had to readjust and make sure it went in.”
“It is a disappointing loss, but give them credit,” Winfield head coach Pat McGinnis said. “They played well and the kid hit a big shot at the end or we would have been going into three overtimes.”
Winfield was able to use its last timeout, which McGinnis had decided not to use earlier in the second overtime, but the Generals had to settle for a halfcourt shot by Taylor Hearn that deflected off the backboard.
“It is kind of a game of stages and a game of runs,” McGinnis said. “We had a little run there. In hindsight, now I wish I had taken timeout with 30 seconds to go instead of trying to run something, but you just don’t know what kids are going to do at this stage.
“It could have gone either way, but hopefully we will learn from it. Princeton is going to be tough against teams that are not very big, they are going to do a good job. We are real disappointed, but it is not a tournament game.”
While Palmer made the final shot, Ferguson was the focal point for the Tigers. The 6-foot-8 junior, who was five inches taller than anyone on the Winfield team, continually got the ball inside and took the ball to the basket.
He made 17 field goals and was 9 of 12 from the free throw line.
“We watched some film on them and I knew we were bigger than them so we were trying to get to the post a lot,” said Ferguson, whose previous high in a game had been 22. “It worked out for us,”
Ferguson had 19 points through two quarters, but Winfield hit six of its 11 3s in the opening half and led 38-31 at the break. The Generals entered with just one loss on the season, a two-point decision against Hurricane.
“They are very good basketball team, very talented, very well-coached,” Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard said. “I thought our kids fought for the entire game. We played hard and we played smart so that was big for us.”
Princeton switched to an aggressive man-to-man defense after the break, and the game turned, with the Tigers holding a 22-9 advantage in the third period and taking a 53-47 lead into the fourth.
“We had to keep putting pressure on the ball,” Ferguson said. “Our guards did a real good job of that, we really just stepped it up on defense in the second half.”
Zen Clements put Princeton up 45-43 with 2:36 left in the third on a pair of free throws. He had nine points in the period and 18 on the game.
“We have that dynamic duo going, it is fun playing with Zen,” said Ferguson, who had 11 points in the third, one less than the 12 in the opening period. “Everybody did their role today, it was a really good win for us.”
That duo combined for 61 of Princeton’s 77 points. They also had 27 rebounds, including 22 from Ferguson and five by Clements.
“There is no question, he had a big night for them,” McGinnis said. “We didn’t rebound well at all, I think they out-rebounded us like 40-some to 17 or 20.”
Princeton led by as much as eight in the final period, taking a 62-54 lead on a 3 by Ian Southcott, who had two 3s and matched Palmer with six points.
“That is what we are trying to get our kids to understand with our bigs,” Gilliard said. “Our bigs are going to be probably the focal point of our offense and as teams begin to double down, our perimeter guys have got to get their feet set so when the kick-out comes, they can get their stroke off.”
Winfield went on a 11-3 run to end regulation, with John Bellomy — who led the Generals with 23 points — making a field goal and free throw with 1:05 on the clock to tie the score at 67.
Both teams had chances, including the Generals, but two shots were missed, including one which was blocked by Ferguson near the basket. Princeton had the ball last, but couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
The Tigers scored the first five points of overtime on a 3 by Southcott and a shot by Ferguson, but the Generals answered with a drive to the basket by Bellomy and a 3 at the buzzer by Zach Fisher.
Winfield took the lead in the second overtime, with Toby Snow canning a 3, but the Generals wouldn’t score again.
“Our problem, especially in the second overtime, we had two straight possessions where we just did some dumb things, threw the ball away a couple of times and we had 30 seconds,” said McGinnis, who also received 14 points each from Fisher and Hearn, and 11 by Snow. “I had a timeout, but I wanted to just run the offense a little bit and get it down a little lower.
“We had a couple of open shots, we bobbled the ball underneath and threw it away and then tried to force something in.”
Ferguson cut the margin to 75-74 with an offensive putback, and later made a free throw to tie the score with 49.8 seconds left. Ferguson had a steal on one Winfield possession and the Generals later lost the ball out of bounds, giving the Tigers the ball with 33.6 seconds on the clock.
Gilliard called a timeout and put the ball in Palmer’s hand with instructions to follow.
“If we had to take a jump shot, the shot should go up around 4 seconds and not be forced,” Gilliard said. “We did what we had to do, Zen was there to set the screen as he should ... and Jay did a good job of stepping down inside and getting a good shot.”
Ferguson was ready if the shot missed, but was glad to see it fall through the net.
“I was thinking that if he missed that I just had to clean up the boards, but luckily he banked it in,” said Ferguson, whose Tigers have won three straight after starting the year at 0-3. “It was exciting. Hopefully we can keep it going,”
“That is what we expect of him, that is what we want him to do,” Gilliard said. “We want him to come to work every day. I know he has had several good practices the last few days, his mental focus has been here, the effort has been here and tonight we had the results.”
It wasn’t the 43 that mattered most to Ferguson.
“It really is a good win,” Ferguson said. “I am not really worried about scoring, I just want the win.”
—Contact Brian Woodson email@example.com
at Coach Ralph Ball Court
Toby Show 4 2-3 11, Colton Schoolcraft 2 0-0 6, Zach Fisher 6 0-0 14, John Bellomy 9 3-4 23, Brandon Wright 0 0-0 0, Heath Diehl 2 0-0 5, Taylor Hearn 5 1-1 14, William Hancock 1 0-0 2. Totals 29 6-8 75.
Colton Fix 1 0-2 2, Ian Southcott 2 0-1 6, Zen Clements 6 6-7 18, Ashton O’Dell 1 0-0 2, Aaron Ferguson 17 9-12 43, Mason Kroll 0 0-0 0, Jay Palmer 2 2-2 6, Logan McKinney 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 17-24 77.
Winfield.....................19 19 9 20 5 3 — 75
Princeton..................18 13 22 14 5 5 — 77
3-point goals: WF 11 (Hearn 3, Schoolcraft 2, Fisher 2, Bellomy 2, Show 1, Diehl 1); PR 2 (Southcott 2). Total fouls: 21; PR 11. Fouled out: Show. JV—PR 51 (Jacob Whittington 12, Garrison Hartwell 10); WF 48 (Brandon Jividen 17).