By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Princeton did it once, now the Tigers have to do it again, with its season on the line.
Princeton will open Class AAA, Region 3, Section 2 action tonight in an elimination contest with Greenbrier East at the Brushfork Armory.
Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m. The winner will play either top-seeded Woodrow Wilson (18-4) — winners of 14 straight — or Shady Spring (13-9) and high-scoring Chase Conner for the regional title on Friday.
The winner will also advance to the regional tournament next week. The loser calls it a season.
Princeton (17-5) is one of three teams to defeat the Spartans (19-3) this season. The Tigers traveled to Fairlea on Feb. 12 and left with a 63-52 win over the then-fourth ranked Class AAA team in West Virginia.
Doing it again is what the Tigers must do against the Spartans, who are now ranked eighth. Princeton is the first team listed among schools also receiving votes in the final media poll of the season.
“It is a huge challenge. They are a very good basketball team, and they are very deep in talent,” Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard said. “They have got a kid that is probably a candidate for player of the year as a junior in Rondale Watson.
“They have got size and an excellent point guard in (Bruce) Woodliff. It is going to be a really tough task for us, believe it or not.”
Princeton, which has won six of its last seven games, has been paced all season by senior guard Ryan Meadows, who was right on his average of 24 points a game against the Spartans. Hunter Walters added 17 and Derek Jennelle had 12, as the Tigers were 5 for 12 from 3-point range.
The Tigers were also effective on the other side of the court with a variety of zones defenses, holding the Spartans to 19-of-67 shooting from the field, including 5-of-31 from 3-point range. Watson had 16 points, but was 0-for-8 from 3, and 5-for-25 in the game. Woodliff tallied 17 points, while Obi Romeo had eight points and 19 boards.
Princeton was trailing 30-26 at halftime, but outscored the Spartans 37-22 after the break.
“We are probably not going to change much from what we have done in the past,” Gilliard said. “We will do the things that have made us successful all year long. We are not going away from what we do, we might add a wrinkle here or there, but we will keep with the things that made us successful and kept us in the ball game.”
Princeton is coming off a 66-57 win over short-handed Bluefield, a club that Gilliard compares favorably to Greenbrier East, although the Spartans are much bigger, led by the 6-9 Romeo, which will be a challenge for the Tigers’ 6-7 Aaron Ferguson and 6-5 Zen Clements.
“That game was more of a rhythm game. They are another team that is deep in talent and athleticism and is comparable to Greenbrier East, but the only difference is Greenbrier East has size,” Gilliard said. “That is what they bring to the table is the opportunity to play against those kind of athletes.
“We are a mirror image of each other. They are very athletic, have great shooters. Without a doubt, containing and controlling the perimeter people is going to be crucial for us.”
Gilliard is focused on a trio of factors as the Tigers try to send the Spartans to a second straight defeat. Greenbrier East lost its last game 61-47 against South Charleston.
“We have to shoot the ball well, we have to defend and limit dribble-penetration and we have to rebound the ball,” he said.