By CAM HUFFMAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
ROCKY GAP, Va. —
It may be January, but tonight’s boys basketball game between Princeton and Woodrow Wilson will have a March feel. On the line is positioning in Region III, Section 2 and, as always, bragging rights.
The Class AAA No. 9 Tigers (11-3) will visit the No. 14 Flying Eagles (7-4) at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.
“It’s a huge game,” admitted Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard. “It’s a divisional game, and that’s always important, but on top of that it’s Woodrow.”
If Woodrow Wilson wants to end the regular season as the top seed in the sectional, tonight’s game is a must-win. The top spot is likely to come down to Princeton, Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East, and the Flying Eagles are already a little behind after dropping a home game to the Spartans. A win tonight, though, would put head coach Ron Kidd’s club right in the mix.
A Princeton victory would eliminate Beckley from the top seed — barring some highly unusual circumstances — and set up a showdown between Greenrbier East and Princeton in Fairlea on Feb. 12.
Woodrow is also playing to get back in the state discussion in Class AAA. The Flying Eagles were seen as a threat to win a 17th state championship after a 3-0 start that included lopsided wins over Wyoming East, Hurricane and Huntington, but the 61-59 home loss to Greenbrier East started a downward spiral that included four losses in five games, three of them at home.
Beckley has since recovered and as won three straight over Cabell Midland, Nitro and Capital. On Tuesday, the Flying Eagles flew past the Cougars on the road, winning 67-43.
Woodrow is still receiving votes in the Associated Press high school poll, and a win over Capital could help it move back into its usual spot inside the top 10.
“They’re still Woodrow,” said Gilliard, showing tremendous respect for the program. “I’ve seen them play a couple times, and they still play Beckley basketball.”
Princeton, which actually beat Woodrow 58-57 the last time the teams met last February, is still looking for more respect. Its only losses this season are to Class AAA No. 1 South Charleston, No. 12 Hurricane and No. 10 George Washington, and the Tigers have wins over Class AA No. 1 Bluefield, sectional rival Shady Spring and Huntington, among others.
Princeton is led by Ryan Meadows, who is averaging nearly 23 points a game, and Hunter Walters, who is scoring 11.5 a contest.
Donte Nabors leads Woodrow Wilson with nearly 20 points a game, while football quarterback Andrew Johnson leads the attack and averages 13.1 points.
When they’re able to run, the Flying Eagles look like a typical Beckley team, with a strong transition offense with the athletes to finish.
During the early-January skid, though, Beckley struggled to find offense out of its half]court sets. The Flying Eagles have been better at that in recent games, but Princeton’s best opportunity for a ‘W’ is to make it a halfcourt game whenever possible.
Princeton’s best offense this season has come from its guards. The Tigers have some size, including 6-7 Aaron Ferguson, who had a huge game in the win over Bluefield, but the key for Woodrow will be shutting down the perimeter and limiting second-chance opportunities.
“We need to make good decisions with the basketball, and our role players need to knock down some shots,” said Gilliard. “We were doing that early on, but we’ve gotten away from that.”
In other prep action tonight:
•Bluefield will visit Scott in the first of two games with the Skyhawks, a series arranged after the Beavers’ holiday tournament was postponed by snow.
The Beavers (9-1), ranked first in Class AA in West Virginia, will visit the sixth-ranked Skyhawks (10-4), who started the season with an 8-0 mark, but dropped four straight before its current two-game win streak.
Scott’s last loss was a 59-57 decision to Wyoming East. The Beavers defeated the Warriors earlier this month 75-56.
•Graham will host a Mountain Empire District twinbill with Galax tonight, with the varsity girls tipping off at Graham Middle School at 6 p.m. The junior varsity games will be played at Graham High School.
These games had originally been scheduled for Friday.
Four girls teams are within a game of first place in the MED. Graham (8-6, 2-2) trails Galax (9-6, 3-1), along with Fort Chiswell and Grayson County, both of whom are 3-1 in the MED.
The Graham boys (12-4, 4-0), who are currently tied for first place with Grayson County, will host the Maroon Tide (1-12, 0-4), who are struggling after losing the bulk of consecutive Division 1 state championship teams.
The G-Men will play Grayson County on Monday.
•Six local girls teams will be on the floor against each other tonight.
PikeView (6-6) will continue its wicked schedule by hosting Summers County (11-3), while Bluefield (9-6) visits Wyoming East (8-7) and Mount View (7-4) welcomes James Monroe (8-5).
•Montcalm will play a girls/boys doubleheader tonight at Greater Beckley Christian.
•Key Friday boys games: Bland County at Narrows; Abingdon at Richlands; Tazewell at Carroll County; Mingo Central at Mount View; Wyoming East at PikeView; River View at Bluefield, Riverside at Princeton, Twin Valley at Haysi and Hurley at Honaker.
•Key Friday girls games: Bland County at Narrows; Abingdon at Richlands; Tazewell at Carroll County; River View at Independence and Twin Valley at Haysi.
contributed to this report