The Princeton defense squelched the Shady Spring offense for sizable stretches of the second half on Tuesday night, taking a 62-57 victory in a battle of the Tigers to begin the Class AAA, Region 3, Section 2 tournament.
Shady Spring wound up making 21 of 60 field-goal tries. With several fast-break layups factored in, Princeton was 23 of 54 from the floor and made 15 of 24 free throws — after going 1 for 3 in the first half.
“We stayed with the game plan of playing solid man-for-man defense,” said Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard. “They’ve got great shooters, and you can’t give them an open look.”
”We became a little more solid in our assignments, and how to handle their dribble-weave. And it worked out for us tonight.”
Shady Spring climbed out of an early 6-0 hole to knot the contest 8-8, the first of five ties in the half.
Princeton went into the paint often midway through the first half, and crafted a 12-4 run for a 23-19 lead. There was just one field goal in the last four minutes before halftime, but Shady Spring was 6 for 7 at the foul line and Princeton led 26-25 at the horn.
The home team then scored seven points while their visitors were 1 for 7 from the field.
Gilliard said, “I knew that momentum would swing in favor of the team that came out and controlled the first three or four minutes of the second half. Our defense did that for us, and gave us a little breathing room.”
Gilliard said, “Whenever you play solid defense, you force teams to take bad shots, to take shots that are out of character, to be a little more tentative in their choice of shots.”
Princeton center Aaron Ferguson, who led all scorers with 22 points, said, “The first half we were a little sloppy. We went into the locker room and had a talk, and got our heads right and came out and did what we had to do.”
Point guard Jay Palmer said, “It was a defensive effort, making sure we did our assignments.”
He said working past Shady Spring’s screens was “the biggest thing” in the second half. “Once we were finally able to do that, we were successful defensively.”
The visitors had just five points in the third quarter, going 2 for 13, while Princeton built the game’s largest lead at 43-30 on the last points of the period, when Palmer fed the ball to Ferguson for a bucket in the paint.
Ferguson said, “I knew we had to keep fighting. Even though we had the lead, we couldn’t lay down.”
Tyler Bonds led a Shady Spring rally in the fourth. He followed a steal-and-layup with a putback to narrow Princeton’s lead to 43-37 with 5:21 left.
Princeton scored its final field goal on a Ferguson putback with 3:06 on the clock, then went 10 for 16 at the free throw line to hold off another comeback attempt by their guests.
Shady Spring senior Landon Perry hit a pair of three-pointers in the final minute, the first of which cut Princeton’s advantage to 53-49.
Princeton was patient and cautious with possession of the ball in the latter stages.
Gilliard said, “It wasn’t so much ‘eat some time,’ it was just be a little more selective in the shots that we take, to be a little more deliberate in the passes that we made, to be a little more deliberate in our cuts offensively and in the execution of our offense.”
Shady Spring head coach Steve Clark said, “a good back-and-forth game. (It was a) very physical-type game, something we hadn’t seen a lot of during the season. It wore us down a little bit.”
His top shooter, Steven Chhabra, scored 17 points, which Clark said was less than his recent per-game average.
“They kind of took away his best quality, which was driving to the basket,” Clark said. “Nobody was going to the basket tonight. It was very physical.”
Tyler Bonds also chalked up 17 points for Shady Spring, and Perry added 10.
Perry said about his final basketball game for Shady Spring, “I dove on every ball, I took some charges. I did my best. ... But what can you do? You play a team like Princeton. They’re a great team. It’s tough to win.”
“They just pulled away there at the end. That’s a veteran team for you.”
Ashton Odell added 11 points for the victors.
Princeton has a quick turnaround, traveling today to Beckley to take on Woodrow Wilson (18-4) in the sectional semifinals. The Flying Eagles are third in Class AAA in the final Associated Press poll of the season.
Gilliard made the game plan sound simple on Tuesday. “We’ve got to control the tempo, and play solid defense,” he said.
Ferguson said, “It’s going to be a tough battle there. We’ve got to fight.” He did not expect fatigue to be a factor, though. “We’ve been conditioning a lot here, lately, so I think our legs should be good,” he said.
Palmer said, “I’m excited. I look forward to it. I have a great team. I love these guys. I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
at Coach Ralph Ball Court
SHADY SPRING (9-12)
Steven Chhabra 7 2-4 17, Jordan Meadows 2 1-4 7, Josh Snyder 0 2-2 2, Landon Perry 2 4-5 10, Tyler Bonds 8 1-1 17, Nate Williams 2 0-0 4. Totals 21 10-16 57.
Ian Southcott 1 0-2 2, Mason Kroll 2 1-2 5, Jay Palmer 3 4-6 10, Zen Clements 2 0-0 4, Ashton Odell 4 2-2 11, Logan McKinney 3 2-6 8, Aaron Ferguson 8 6-7 22. Totals 23 15-24 62.
Shady Spring...15 10 5 27 — 57
Princeton.........13 13 17 19 — 62
3-point goals — SS 5 (Chhabra 1, Meadows 2, Perry 2); PSHS 1 (Odell). Fouled out — SS, Bonds. Total fouls — SS18, PSHS 16. Technical fouls — none.