That Christmas shootaround came in handy for Aaron Ferguson.
The 6-foot-7 Princeton sophomore scored 22 points and 6-5 Zen Clements added 11, including a pair of dunks, leading the Tigers to an impressive 68-61 win over Bluefield in front of a large audience at the Brushfork Armory.
Ferguson joined Princeton teammate Ryan Meadows at the Princeton gymnasium on Christmas night for some basketball.
“I took some hook shots, some turnarounds and different stuff to improve my game,” Ferguson said. “It helped a lot tonight.”
The taller Tigers were able to take advantage of that size, with Ferguson and Clements outscoring Bluefield’s tallest players — Corey Coppola and D.J. Edwards — by a combined 33-5.
“We knew we were bigger than their bigs so we knew they could feed us the ball and we knew we just had to work,” Ferguson said. “If it didn’t happen we could kick it back out to them and they had their shots going.”
‘They’ included Meadows, who also benefited from that Christmas session, scoring 19 points, while Derek Jennelle had 11, including a trio of 3s in the second quarter that put the Tigers up to stay.
“That is what we have been working on. If we have an inside presence, our perimeter players can kind of feed off of that,” Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard said. “We wanted to find out how good they were inside and if our kids could play and tonight they demonstrated they are really growing up.”
Bluefield (2-1), which reached the Class AA state finals last season, rallied from a 41-31 halftime deficit to narrow the margin to 53-51 going into the fourth quarter, but the Beavers missed their first 11 shots from the field in the final period.
“Their big guys played well, but obviously one stat that sticks out to me is they shot 60 percent from the floor and we shot 33, and as much as we shoot I would never think that would happen,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “You have to give them credit, they found a way to make us shoot that way.”
Michael Yost led the Beavers with 22 points, including four 3s, while Anthony Eades had 17 points and three 3s. Lykel Collier added 15 points.
“We have got 19 more games coming up, but I think the fans got their money’s worth,” Large said. “Even though we came out short I think they saw an exciting game.”
Especially early on, with nine lead changes and six ties in the opening 9:50 before Princeton took the lead for good on an offensive putback by Ferguson for the 23-22 lead with 6:10 left in the second quarter.
Princeton didn’t seem to be bothered by playing its first game in the spacious Brushfork Armory, but the Tigers practiced at Bluefield College on Thursday and it paid off, shooting 65.4 percent (17-26) in the opening half, including an 18-9 run to the end of the half on three 3s by Jennelle, seven points from Meadows and another two points by Ferguson.
“I was telling my coaches today that Derek was due a good game and no better time than tonight,” Gilliard said. “He played fantastic for us tonight, we are extremely proud of Derek.”
Yost led a Bluefield comeback with 10 points in the third quarter, as the Beavers forced turnovers and trimmed the margin to 53-51 on a putback by Coppola as the buzzer signaled the arrival of the final period.
That was followed by losing Meadows to a fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, but Ferguson said the Tigers never panicked in a hostile environment without their leader on the floor.
“We just had that good ‘d’ coming out in the fourth,” Ferguson said. “Coach is always telling us to be cool and if they hit a shot, they hit a shot, if not we know we can clean the boards up.”
Bluefield suddenly went cold from the field, missing their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter, scoring only two points on a pair of Eades free throws before Collier made a 3 with 1:43 on the clock to cut the margin to 62-56.
“We just dug ourselves a hole there in the second quarter,” Large said. “We were able to come back and we never quit, but I know when we came back and got it within two, we went 10 straight possessions without a bucket and you can’t beat a good team like they are with not scoring.
“You have got to capitalize on that. It is early in the year, it is going to be a learning experience and we are going to get better.”
Ferguson and Clements continued to torment the Beavers inside, combining for 10 points in the fourth period, including a second dunk for Clements, who also slammed it down for Princeton’s first points of the game.
“That is what Clements likes, he loves that dunk,” Gilliard said. “I am kind of glad he got one because that helps settle him down. He has been kind of antsy early on in the season and he is starting to embrace what the coaching staff is trying to give him so he can grow.”
Bluefield did cut the margin to 3, at 62-59, on a 3 by Yost 1:12 to play, and the Beavers had the ball with a chance to tie the game, but Meadows stole the ball from Eades, and the Tigers proceeded to make six straight free throws to secure the win.
“It is a big win, but we have next week to worry about now,” Ferguson said.
The Tigers will host the Alpha Natural Resources Holiday Tournament on Thursday and Friday after the initial date last weekend was snowed out. Mount View has replaced Webster County, and the rest of the field includes the Tigers, James Monroe and Patrick Henry-Roanoke.
“They are an excellent basketball team, tremendous talent,” said Gilliard, of the Beavers. “Tonight it was our night, but we can’t be satisfied with this win, we have got to go back in the gym tomorrow and start working and get ready for the next one.”
Bluefield returns to action on Wednesday at River View, followed by another road trip on Friday to Oak Hill.
“We knew coming in we were playing a very good team, they are two points from being undefeated with the loss to South Charleston,” said Large, who acknowledged the youth of his inside players after losing two three-year starters to graduation. “We just knew we were up to a big task and their size was a big concern.
“Overall, it was a great game with the exception that we shot so poorly and didn’t take the opportunities when we had the opportunity. The good thing about it, these are mistakes that are correctable and that is what we will have to do.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com
at Brushfork Armory
Ryan Meadows 6 6-6 19, Derek Jennelle 5 0-0 13, Zen Clements 5 1-2 11, Hunter Walters 0 2-4 2, Aaron Ferguson 11 0-0 22, Kyle Caron 0 1-2 1, Lamont Lee 0 0-0 0, Ryan Rogers 0 0-0 0, Storm McPherson 0 0-0 0. Totals 27 10-14 14 68.
D.J. Edwards 1 1-2 3, Anthony Eades 6 2-2 17, Lykel Collier 4 6-6 15, Michael Yost 7 4-5 22, Corey Coppola 1 0-2 2, Jordan Ponder 1 0-0 2, David Woodrum 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 13-17 61.
Princeton...17 24 12 15 — 68
Bluefield.....19 12 20 10 — 61
3-point goals: PR 4 (Jennelle 3, Meadows 1); BF 8 (Yost 4, Eades 3, Collier 1). Total fouls: 16; BF 13. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none. JV—Princeton 67 (Ashton O’Dell 23, Colton Fix 22); Bluefield 64 (Trevor Mullins 19, Montel Leggett 14).