Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 10
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
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TALL ORDER: Princeton High boys’ basketball star A. J. Dowers heads in for two of his 10 points in fifth-seeded PHS’s 55-46 win at No. 1 Monmouth Regional last Saturday in the Group III Central Jersey semifinals. The 6’8 Dowers was a force in the paint in the upset, chipping in 14 rebounds and some key blocked shots as PHS improved to 18-6 on the season. The victory earned PHS a date with No. 3 Neptune in the sectional final last Tuesday with the winner advancing to the Group III state semis on Thursday at Winslow Township High.

Sparked by Inspired Play From Dowers, PHS Boys’ Hoops Makes Sectional Final

Bill Alden

At times this season, A.J. Dowers went missing in action for the Princeton High boys’ basketball team.

The 6’8 senior center struggled in late season losses to WW/P-S, Lawrence High, and Pennington, losing some confidence and playing time in the process.

But showing a sense of urgency, Dowers came up big last Thursday as fifth-seeded PHS pulled out a 47-35 victory at No. 4 Point Pleasant in the Group III Central Jersey quarterfinals.

Dowers dominated in the paint, pulling down some key rebounds and scoring nine points including a rim-rattling dunk.

That sterling effort, though, was just a prelude to the performance Dowers produced last Saturday as PHS played at top-seeded Monmouth Regional in the sectional semis.

The lanky Dowers was in the middle of the action all afternoon long, scoring 10 points and snaring 14 rebounds as the Little Tigers stunned the Falcons 55-46.

After the final buzzer, Dowers found himself in the middle of a raucous scene on the court as the PHS student fans came out of the stands to mob the Little Tigers as they celebrated the upset.

The victory earned PHS a date with No. 3 Neptune in the sectional final last Tuesday with the winner advancing to the Group III state semis on Thursday at Winslow Township High.

Standing outside the team’s dressing room at one end of the Monmouth regional gym, Dowers had trouble explaining his late surge.

“To be honest, I am not sure myself,” said the soft-spoken Dowers. “The team has been behind me. We have the crowds coming out; it’s a high pressure environment. It’s been a lot of fun. I am starting to get over my own mental blocks.”

Dowers and his teammates were determined to overcome the roadblock posed by Monmouth Regional, which had knocked the Little Tigers out of the state tournament last season.

“That was a huge part of coming into this game,” asserted Dowers, a team tri-captain along with classmates Brian Dunlap and DeQuan Holman.

“Last year, we started off in the 8-0 rut and we had to fight back the whole game and it ended our season. This was really a redemption game for us.”

Redemption, however, didn’t come easy for the Little Tigers. With both teams playing fierce defense, the teams were tied four times in the first half.

PHS went on an 8-2 run to take a 17-11 lead into the dressing room at halftime.

Employing full-court pressure, Monmouth put PHS under fire. The Falcons pulled to within one at 28-27 and 30-29 and trailed just 32-29 going into the fourth quarter.

With Dowers controlling the boards and Dunlap draining one free throw after another, the Little Tigers subdued the Falcons on the way to the 55-46 triumph.

In reflecting on the second half, Dowers acknowledged that PHS had to keep its cool.

“We understood that they were going to come at us with a lot more intensity,” said Dowers.

“They started in that 2-1-2 zone for almost the whole first half and then to come out and play that high pressure defense was a transition for us. We had to be more patient and we had to execute better than we were.”

PHS head coach Jason Carter is proud of the way Dowers has played in his final state tournament.

“The last couple of games something has clicked inside of him,” said Carter, whose team improved to 18-6 with the win.

“He’s not getting pushed around; he is keeping his pivot foot down. He’s got the confidence and the guys have confidence in him. He’s been through a lot and right now he is playing the way we always thought he could.”

In Carter’s view, his team played the way he thought it could in the win over Monmouth Regional.

“It’s a great achievement, it is a fantastic team effort all around from the bench guys to the starters,” asserted Carter with his face locked in a wide grin.

“Guys played through adversity; we felt that we weren’t getting some calls. It was the second game in a row where we kept our poise and showed our experience and maturity.”

The experience of having lost 71-58 to Monmouth Regional in the opening round of last year’s state tournament gave the Little Tigers some extra motivation. “I looked at this as an opportunity to avenge a tough loss,” said Carter. “When a team knocks you out of the playoffs, if you have an opportunity to play them again in the playoffs, I think you can take advantage of it.”

In toppling the Falcons, PHS took advantage of the clutch shooting of senior guard Dunlap, who went 12-of-14 from the foul line and banged in a trio of three-pointers on the way to a game-high 21 points.

“We have drills where we put the team on the line and shoot 1-on-1,” said Carter.

“I never call Brian up to shoot the 1-on-1 because he always makes it. He is so poised. I’ll bring the bench guys up and they’ll go 1 for 2 and we’ll run a sprint or whatever and the whole team is looking at me can you just call Brian’s name so we can go on to the next drill.”

Dowers, for his part, relishes the chance to go on to a sectional final. “It means a lot,” said Dowers.

“Everyday when we go to practice, we have the banner on the wall, it’s got 1992, 1993, 1994 sectional titles and blank. We are trying to fill that spot.”

And with Dowers having a banner state tournament, these Little Tigers have earned a special spot in the program’s history.

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