In producing a 5-2 start this season, the Princeton High boys’ basketball team employed a winning formula of balanced scoring and stifling defense.
A case in point came last week with the Little Tigers’ 68-42 defeat to visiting Ewing on January 15.
PHS came out flat and trailed the Blue Devils 37-17 at halftime. “It is hard to dig out of a hole against a team that pressures you and has good players and obviously has a good history,” said PHS first-year head coach Mark Shelley, reflecting on his team’s first half performance against Ewing.
“We have been holding people under 50 points or so and they had 37 at the half and that is just not good. It is not like Ewing doesn’t have good players but is was such a bad half defensively. We weren’t rotating well. We tried zone, we tried man, we tried trap and then finally we went to some other players in the second half.”
In the third quarter, the Little Tigers did make a rally, drawing to within 49-35 as senior star Lior Levy caught fire.
“We talked about getting inside,” recalled Shelley. “Obviously Lior really came to play in the second half. We said that if we don’t give up a lot of easy baskets, we can get back in this. Inside my head, the goal was to get it by 10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. They hit a 3 and a 2 at the end of the quarter to get it back to 19.”
In addition to some defensive lapses, the Little Tigers lacked their customary scoring balance, as Levy was the only player in double figures.
“Lior had 19 and the rest of the starters had eight,” noted Shelley, whose team fell 67-48 at WW/P-S last Friday to drop to 5-6.
“I said at the beginning of the year that is not what we want. I have heard them say it in interviews too; in the games we have won handily, we have had four starters in double figures. The other four starters didn’t even have double figures between them tonight. We can’t do that.”
In Shelley’s view, his squad’s slump is part of the ebb and flow that comes with a campaign which stretches from December to March.
“I told them basketball is a game of runs and the season is really about runs,” said Shelley, whose team plays at Lawrence on January 24 before hosting Nottingham on January 26 and Notre Dame on January 29.
“Part of it is that we are in a particularly difficult part of the schedule and part of it was we were on the road for a while.”
With nearly two months left in the season, PHS has time to right itself for a playoff run.
“We felt that we learned from the Hopewell game (a 67-62 overtime loss on December 14) and I think we can learn from this,” said Shelley.
“We don’t want them to get too down. We had a great start to the season and we still have a lot of the season left. We can still earn some home games in the county and the state tournament.”