Applying a mindset that helped him star for the Princeton High boys’ cross country team, Matt Hoffman has developed a finishing kick on the basketball court.
“In the beginning of the game, I am a little cold,” said PHS senior guard Hoffman.
“But as the game goes on I get into it and get into the flow. I can feel the adrenaline
in my body.”
As PHS heads into the homestretch, Hoffman is saving his best for last, having averaged 14.3 points a game in his last four games before last Friday’s contest against visiting Steinert.
“As a senior, there is a different mentality,” explained Hoffman, who served as a captain this past fall for a PHS boys’ cross country team that won a sectional title.
“Last year, I would be a little scared. If I make a mistake, it doesn’t get to me. Last year, it got to me. Now I just keep running the floor. With the cross country, that’s easy for me.”
Hoffman and fellow senior, Davon Black, have gone out of their way this winter to pass on some lessons to the younger PHS players.
“In practice, Davon and me always take the time to go over to them and ask them about their lives,” said Hoffman, who also stars for the PHS baseball team.
“I talk to them to make sure they keep their heads up because they are young. If they get their heads down, it is hard to come back.”
In the game against Steinert, Hoffman helped PHS rally after it got down 22-20 in the wake of a 6-0 Spartan run early in the third quarter and head coach Jason Carter called a timeout to read the riot act to his charges.
“Coach told us the way we got our lead was playing defense,” recalled Hoffman. “He said to play defense when we go back in. I think, personally, that we play better when we are angrier. I think that is the key sometimes.”
Hoffman channeled that anger into some big offensive plays, hitting a left-handed lay-up and a long 3-pointer as the Little Tigers responded with a 7-0 run to regain momentum.
PHS went on to pull away to a 61-48 win with Hoffman tallying 16 points and Black scoring 18.
“It was definitely good to get a home win; it always sparks interest,” said Hoffman, reflecting on the victory which lifted PHS to 6-7. “This part of the season is the toughest part to get through. It is midway and the guys are a little tired.”
PHS head coach Carter liked the way some of his younger players performed on Friday.
“We do have some young guys, even though the roster says juniors, they are first-time varsity guys and some of them are first-time varsity athletes,” said Carter, who got some good play off the bench from juniors Ellis Bloom and Lior Levy in the win over Steinert.
“We are just getting their feet wet and getting them a little bit of experience. Hopefully you are going to see it down the road in the next month or so. We are taking it one day at a time, one step at a time. We have had really, really good practices the last few days.”
That work in the gym paid dividends down the stretch on Friday as the Little Tigers outscored the Spartans 25-17 in the fourth quarter.
“We just wanted them to play the passing lanes; they weren’t that great of a passing team,” said Carter.
“We wanted to cut down the lanes and try to get some deflections and hopefully the deflections will lead to turnovers and fast break points. We wanted to play more of an up and down game instead of a half court game. We were really proud of how they responded.”
Carter is proud of Hoffman’s play and the senior leadership he is exhibiting. “Matt has been playing well; he has grown a lot in the last two months or so,” added Carter.
“He has been providing some leadership on and off the court. He has been able to come up big when we need someone to step up and make a play. We were in little bit of a lull in the third quarter and he got into the paint with a left-handed layup. We need for a senior to step up and he was able to deliver.”
In Carter’s view, Black is also delivering on a more consistent basis.
“Davon dedicates himself to the team and he has dedicated himself to the game,” said Carter, whose squad hosts WW/P-S on January 27 before playing at WW/P-N on January 31.
“He had some struggles early in the season when some guys were keying up on him. He has learned how to play through being double-teamed and triple-teamed and how to make the team better through that. He has also learned to take advantage when he does have 1-on-1 opportunities.”
Hoffman, for his part, is determined to help PHS take advantage of the opportunities that come its way down the stretch.
“I think we just need to keep our spirits up,” said Hoffman, who will be heading to either Michigan or Cornell next year.
“I think sometimes we get a little bit down and we will have bad games. That’s normal. With coach’s practices recently, we have been more energetic and we feel the sense of urgency. It is coming to the end and we really need to step it up.”