TAZEWELL, Va. — Shortly after he was confirmed as head coach last week, Princeton boys basketball skipper Robb Williams said he wanted his new team to get out and run.
In Tuesday night’s season opener with Tazewell at Tazewell Middle School, the Tigers got out and ran.
Relentless defensive pressure caused a flurry of Bulldogs turnovers and Princeton got its party started with a 78-39 road victory.
“That was the best thing about us. We just had to jump on them as fast as we can,” said the Tigers’ CJ Wilborn, who led Princeton with 16 points.
“We got a good starting five. We’re fast and we’re athletic,” Wilborn said.
Chiron Cannady added 15 points for Princeton (1-0), which failed to put one in the hole after winning the opening tip-off but didn’t miss many transition opportunities from that point forward.
Cade Fix added 12 points for the Tigers, Drew Hopkins put up 10 points and Ethan Parson flirted with double figures with nine.
“We played aggressive tonight. For a first night, I was pleased, but we’ve got some work to do, obviously,” said Williams, who had previously coached most of the players he inherited from outgoing head coach Ernie Gilliard, under whom he’d served as an assistant for the last three seasons.
“It was a good win for us,” Williams said.
After the Tigers missed their initial scoring opportunity, Princeton wasted little time forcing a turnover at the other end of the floor. Fix swooped in for a backdoor reverse layup and got jolted a bit by Bulldogs post Thaddeus Mitchell. Fix clearly expected a call, didn’t get one, and the ball rolled out of bounds for Princeton’s second empty possession in a row.
Another Tazewell turnover later, Wilborn outran the Bulldogs to the hoop to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
“That’s all we work on in practice. We do transition and all of that. That’s the best thing about us,” said Wilborn. “We play a fast tempo offense. We’re a lot faster than we were last year.”
Jamir Blevins, who has proven capable of lighting it up from the perimeter on any given night, popped a 3-pointer to give Tazewell a 3-2 lead with 6:41 showing on the clock. Hopkins knocked his own 3 in reply to give Princeton the 5-2 lead, then a Trae Thompson mid-range jumper locked it up at 5 with 6:05 on the clock.
From that point forward, it all came unglued for the Bulldogs (0-3).
In addition to getting turned over eight times by Tigers pressure during Princeton’s subsequent 20-4 run, the Bulldogs were the ones steadily getting themselves into foul trouble. Blevins had his third foul by 3:16 remaining in the quarter and the Tigers were shooting bonus free throws with 54 seconds remaining in the opening period.
“The whole mindset coming out is bringing a lot of energy for the next person. If you’re not working hard for the next person, then you’re disrespecting them,” said Princeton senior guard Cade Fix, who is in his fourth season with the Tigers.
“A lot of energy is our main goal. That and coming out and playing fast,” Fix said.
Tazewell found ways to slow Princeton’s progress a little in the second quarter, but not enough to keep the Tigers from leading 44-19 at the break.
“They’ve got a good team over there. They’ve got some guards that can play. They get up and down with you,” said Tazewell head coach Patrick Cronce.
“But a lot of that is just mental errors. We turned the ball over 20 times in the first half and you just can’t do that against a good team like Princeton. They got a lot of second-chance buckets, too. We get the initial stop and then we don’t get the rebound,” said Cronce, whose athletic but rough-hewn squad will take another personnel hit when it loses Jayden Taylor to shoulder surgery on Friday.
Nunley finished with nine points for the Bulldogs, who travel to face George Wythe on Friday.
The Tigers showed up in blindingly bright uniforms that appeared more red-tinged than the usual orange that compliments the traditional Princeton blue. That isn’t so much a new look as a temporary look, Williams said.
“Those are supposed to be orange. We’re only wearing those because we’re short a few uniforms and we’re waiting for our other uniforms,” said Williams, who expects his team to continue to turn up the defensive heat this season, whether tip of the spear glows cherry red or foundry orange.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do all year ... turn people over and be aggressive. We have a little bit of length but we don’t have a lot of size. We are very athletic and we want to run when we can. I was able to get all 12 guys some playing time tonight, which is always nice,” Williams said.
Princeton faces Nicholas County at home on Thursday.
at Tazewell Middle School
Ethan Parson 4 0-0 9, Chiron Cannady 6 3-5 15, Steven Lugo 1 0-0 2, Tyler Murray 0 0-0 0, Dennis Hylton 1 0-0 2, Drew Hopkins 3 3-3 10, Brayden Quesenberry 0 0-0 0, Cade Fix 5 2-2 12, Brady Martin 1 0-0 2, Ace Lipscomb 2 0-1 4, CJ Wilborn 7 2-3 16, Ryan Burks 0 0-0 0, Justin Young 1 0-0 2, Payton Brown 2 0-0 4. Totals 33 10-16 78.
Chancellor Harris 1 2-4 4, Josiah Jordan 0 1-2 1, Jayden Taylor 1 0-1 2, Cade Myers 1 0-0 2, Lucas Honaker 0 1-2 1, Gavin Nunley 3 1-2 9, Isaiah Rife 0 0-0 0, Braeden Keene 0 0-0 0, Trae Thompson 1 1-2 3, Jacob Whitt 0 1-2 1, Jamir Blevins 1 2-2 5, Thaddeus Mitchell 4 3-3 12. Totals 12 12-20 40.
Princeton.....................25 19 18 16 — 78
Tazewell.........................9 10 13 8 — 40
3-point goals: Princeton 2 (Parson, Hopkins), Tazewell 4 (Nunley 2, Blevins, Mitchell).