Ellis Bloom and his teammates on the Princeton High boys’ basketball team were disappointed when they squandered a late lead in falling to Hopewell Valley in overtime in their season opener.
“We played a tough game on Friday, we were definitely in the game,” said senior guard Bloom. “I think we let some things slip that we hadn’t really worked on.”
PHS went to work after the loss and showed the fruits of that labor in their home opener against Allentown on December 18. The Little Tigers jumped out to a 34-20 halftime lead and never looked back on the way to a 64-46 win.
Bloom was proud of the progress shown by PHS in the victory. “Our coaching staff did a good job of really stressing the things that we needed to work on and I think we executed well today,” said Bloom.
“We definitely stressed to keep it up and keep the intensity up because when we play well is when everyone is focused and everyone is intense and we are really playing as a team.”
That intensity and teamwork certainly showed on the defensive end. “We worked on some different defenses in practice and we were really focused just doing everything that we needed to do,” said Bloom.
“Another big thing about that was defensive rebounding, which we did better today than we did on Friday. It was definitely a step in the right direction.”
The Little Tigers did better offensively as they spread the wealth. “Coach [Mark] Shelley has been stressing balance,” said Bloom.
“We always want to get an even margin for everyone. It is great if someone goes a little bit higher. If everyone is in the 7-to-14 point range, we are bound for a good night.”
While the 6’0 Bloom had a good night as he scored a game-high 15 points, he said it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“I just have to give credit to my teammates because they were the ones finding me,” said Bloom.
“Especially in the first half, Lior Levy gave me at least two backdoor cuts. Yes I made the layup but I give credit to Lior for the pass. Also on some of the in-bounds passes I was able to get open; it was a good job by my teammates finding me.”
As a battle-tested veteran, Bloom is looking to set a positive tone this winter for the Little Tigers.
“I am trying to be a leader and help the younger guys when they get a chance,” said Bloom.
“Obviously I have been through some of the ups and downs of Princeton basketball so I am able to relay the message of my experience to the others and just lead by example. If people see that I am hustling and playing good defense, it is contagious and everyone will do the same thing.”
It was a good experience for PHS to give coach Shelley his first win at the helm of the program.
“It is definitely different, it is a different style but coach Shelley has had success and he was in the program last year,” said Bloom.
“We know each other so it is not like we are starting from ground zero. We have some experience with him. He has experience and he knows what he is talking about so we are able to trust him. If it is different than last year, it is OK because that’s normal because not every coach is the same.”
Coach Shelley liked the way his players grew from the opening night loss. “I felt like it was a real big step forward,” asserted Shelley, whose team took another positive step on Thursday when it beat Hightstown 69-26 to improve to 2-1.
“I felt like our offense was pretty crisp. We got the lead tonight and held it. I wasn’t pleased that they cut it to 10 but that’s going to happen in basketball, it is a game of runs. I was pleased with how we responded to that.”
Shelley was happy with his team’s defensive effort. “I am real pleased with the zone,” said Shelley.
“It is not slowdown but we really try to make them take a shot with a hand in their face. That’s what we want. When we rotated well in the zone tonight, they didn’t get a whole lot of clean looks.”
In Shelley’s view, Bloom gave the team a lot in the win. “Ellis was disappointed the other night about not being as aggressive as he should be,” said Shelley.
“I felt like he was a real leader out there tonight vocally. He is the kind of player where he might score 3 or he might score 15 but he doesn’t make mistakes. He is an outlet ball handler. He is not the main ballhandler but he settles us down. I was real pleased with his game. He is a good complement.”
PHS has complementary parts which should help it maintain a balanced approach.
“I have had some teams where you have too many guards or too many posts,” said Shelley.
“We have a nice blend of them and I really like that. The starting five fits into a 1-2-3-4-5 pattern.
While Shelley enjoyed getting his first PHS triumph under his belt, he was happier for his players. “It felt good but I am such a non-ego person, it is about the kids,” said Shelley, whose team is next in action when it plays at Trenton Central on January 3.
“The seniors talked about how it has been a while since they won a game that convincingly. They had a lot of close ones last year. It was good to come out and lay the hammer down. We got down 5-2 and then we just took over the game.”
Bloom, for his part, believes PHS can do some good things this winter.
“Hopefully we can build on this win and play even better and it can be a continuous process,” said Bloom.
“If we continue to get better every single game and every single practice and everybody does what they need to do, hopefully we should have success later down the road.”