By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
On paper, Princeton had a clear advantage over St. Albans. The Tigers had the edge in experience and size, but the Red Dragons weren’t going down without a fight.
Every time Princeton started to pull away, St. Albans would battle back. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Tigers found their groove for a 72-56 victory on Wednesday night at Princeton Senior High School.
“We’re not as crisp as were at the beginning of the year,” Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard said. “We made a lot of mistakes defensively. We weren’t patient enough to run our sets that we should be offensively.
“We had a prepared for box-in-one defense and things of that nature and the kids just kind of lost their composure. They didn’t stick with the game plan.”
Princeton (10-2) led the entire game, but the Dragons (4-6) closed within one near the end of third quarter until a buzzer-beater by Ryan Meadows made it 49-45. St. Albans cut it within four several times before that and after, but the Tigers were able to seal the game late.
“I thought we played real well,” St. Albans head coach Marshall Kiser said. “I thought our defense had them confused most of the game. We jumped in and out of four different defenses. The Meadows kid is really, really good.
“He’s good off the catch and shoot, he’s good of the dribble and he sees the floor well. We had some kids shoot the ball well and keep us in the game. We played well up until the final quarter. I think we just got tired and Princeton stepped up.”
Meadows had a game-high 24 points including a three-quarter court buzzerbeater that rattled in as the horn sound. The senior standout seemed to have the perfect answer every time the Dragons found their rhythm.
“Ryan is pretty steady. I wish everyone on the team would work as hard as he works,” Gilliard said. “I’m not sure what his rebound total was, but he did a heck of job getting some rebounds and eliminating them from getting second shot opportunities.
“We really appreciate that. What we have to do is hopefully get the rest of the guys energized and charged to perform and play as hard as he plays.”
The Tigers built a 10-2 lead to open play. Meadows capped it off with a jumper after two free throws and Aaron Ferguson added a putback and lay-in. Lay-ups by Quamise Carter and Nathan McNeil started the Dragons rally. McNeil found Kevic Watkins to close out the quarter as Princeton lead 14-10.
Ferguson and Meadows opened the second period with scores then the teams traded baskets over the next few minutes. Princeton held onto a 26-17 lead until Thad Moss hit a turnaround and went to the line. The Dragons were able to grab the offensive board and Cody Young hit from deep to make it a four-point game.
“It’s extremely frustrating especially since we had a size advantage,” Gilliard said of St. Albans getting several offensive rebounds. “Again, our kids have abandoned their fundamentally skills and thoughts as getting a good solid base and being strong in their box out technique. We’re definitely going to look at the film and address that tomorrow.”
The lead grew back to eight, but didn’t stay there long. Moss hit a lay-in and Young hit a cutting Moss to make it a four-point difference once again. Princeton held a 37-31 advantage at the break.
St. Albans kept it close as they answered Princeton shot for shot to begin the third. They answered a fastbreak by Meadows and three by Walters with a three from Ryan Broderick. A McNeil drive and Watkins score made it 46-45 with seconds remaining.
“It was nice to see that,” Kiser said of his team battling back. “We’ve got some kids that can shoot the ball pretty well. We played a lot of guys tonight.
“We played nine people and moved them in and out. Our guys have played well. [Thad] Moss has been hurt and some flu, so we’re now getting healthy. We were competitive tonight and that’s something to build on.”
With the St. Albans within one and time expiring, Meadows launched a three-quarter court prayer and it was answered to give the Tigers momentum heading to the final period.
The game remained close in the opening minutes of the fourth then Meadows and Princeton began to put it away.
Walters hit two from deep while Meadows and Ferguson added two free throws each. Following a St. Albans timeout, Meadows shut the door on the Dragons with a strong drive to the hoop to make it 65-51 with just under three minutes left.
Zen Clements added a putback then Meadows had one last score to seal the victory.
“Through the use of timeouts and trying to get the kids to focus and buy into what wass exactly available to us, we were able to [pull away],” Gilliard said. “Our shooters started hitting shots. We’re still not shooting the ball as well as we did early in the year. That’s another thing we’re going to have to address.
“We’re going to have to continue to work on our shooting. We can’t be afraid to take our shots, but at the same time, we have to make sure the situation we take the shot is a favorable situation. I think we can grow from that perspective.”
Walters finished with 18 points and Ferguson had 11. Eight different players scored for Princeton.
McNeil’s 17 points paced the Dragons. He was their only player in double figures.
Princeton hosts George Washington on Friday while St. Albans visits Spring Valley.
At Princeton Senior High School
ST. ALBANS (4-6)
Broderick 5, Clark 5, Young 6, Beck 4, Carter 4, Watkins 6, Nathan McNeil 17, Aliff 0, Moss 9. Totals- 22 8-16 56.
Lee 0, Ryan Meadows 24, Jennelle 2, Rogers 2, McPherson 0, Clements 8, Hunter Walters 18, Caron 6, Aaron Ferguson 11, Mills 1. Totals- 27 14-17 72.
St. Albans............................10 21 14 11 — 56
Princeton.............................14 23 12 23 — 72
3 pt field goals: SA 5 (Young 2, Broderick, McNeil), PRI 4 (Walters 3, Meadows). Fouled out- none. JV- Princeton won 76-42