While the Princeton High boys’ basketball team didn’t deliver a win to new head coach Mark Shelley in his debut at the helm of the program last Friday at Hopewell Valley, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The Little Tigers led 27-25 at halftime and 46-43 after three quarters and held a five-point advantage with less than three minutes to go in regulation. The Bulldogs, though, forced overtime and went on to a 67-62 win.
“I liked our energy; I thought we had good chemistry,” said Shelley.
“I thought we played well offensively to be in the 60s against a team that plays good defense like that. It was a really close game. You start with a road game and they had a huge crowd but our guys were not rattled. They showed resilience.”
Shelley saw that resilience right from the start of the contest. “There were three or four times in the first half where they went up by three or four and we came down on next possession and scored,” said Shelley.
“We hit a 3 at the buzzer at the end of the first to cut it from four to one. I think that says a lot about the team.”
Senior star Lior Levy showed a lot in the opener, pouring in a game-high 25 points.
“He played fantastic; it was not a selfish 25,” said Shelley. “It was a recognition from him that he is skilled and a recognition from the other players that he does have a special skill set. We are much better when we are touching the ball in the post. He made some beautiful moves in the post and he popped some 3’s trailing on the fast break. It was a senior being a leader.”
The Little Tigers got some good play from two other key veterans as junior forward Peter Mahotiere chipped in 11 points with senior point guard Scott Bechler scoring 14 and triggering the PHS offense.
“Peter does so many good things for us,” said Shelley. “He is a tough rebounder and goes a really good job playing in the middle of our zone. Scott played the entire game. He handled the pressure well and they were checking him good all night long. We talked at halftime about getting to the line more and Scott did a good job of that in the second half. He was a warrior out there.”
In reflecting on the loss, Shelley believes his team has to do a better job at the defensive end of the court.
“We gave up too many points; we worked on backside rotations and our zone in our weekend practice,” said Shelley, whose team hosts Hightstown on December 21. “We made some bad decisions and mental errors that led them to get some easier shots than I would have liked. That is coachable.”
Shelley is confident that both he and his players gained some important lessons from the HoVal game.
“Everyone can improve,” said Shelley. “I probably should have subbed more in the first half. We all learned.”