For Chris Okorodudu, joining the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team this winter as a junior has proven to be an inspired move.
“It has been great; it has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” said Okorodudu, who transferred to PDS from WW/P-N. “I love this program and I love everyone in it.”
Last Sunday in the state Prep B semifinals against visiting Rutgers Prep, the 6’6 Okorodudu endeared himself to the program, scoring 12 points as the second-seeded Panthers rallied from a 28-19 halftime deficit to pull away to a 46-38 win over the third-seeded Argonauts. PDS will now play at top-seeded Pennington on February 21 in the Prep B championship game.
There was no panic in the locker room at intermission as the Panthers assessed their situation.
“We have been saying this all year, we bend but we don’t break,” said Okorodudu. “We just had to keep fighting. We were able to do that today and pull out the win.”
In Okorodudu’s view, fighting hard on defense was the key to the PDS rally which saw the Panthers outscore the Argonauts 16-7 in the third quarter to make it a 35-35 game heading into the last eight minutes of regulation.
“I think it was our defensive intensity,” said Okorodudu, reflecting on the comeback.
“We have so much talent on the other end that when we play defense, that gets us going.”
Okorodudu got going offensively, scoring five points in both the third and fourth quarters.
“The coaches always have my back; they instill me with a lot of confidence,” said Okorodudu. “They keep telling me to keep shooting and keep being aggressive and I tried to do that today.”
Having each other’s backs also played a key role in the victory. “It shows how strong we are as a team, we have really bonded now that we are in the playoffs” said Okorodudu, who scored 14 points Monday as fifth-seeded PDS topped Ewing 74-56 in the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament to move to 18-6 and advance to a semifinal matchup against top-seeded Notre Dame on February 20 at Mercer County Community College.
“We know we have a lot of seniors and we are just trying to play for them and take this team as far as we know we can go.”
The Panthers brought a little extra motivation into Sunday as they had fallen to Rutgers Prep in the Prep B championship game last winter.
“I wasn’t here last year but I know that was the elephant in the room,” said Okorodudu. “We lost to them last year so we had to get them back this year.”
PDS head coach Paris McLean attributed the comeback against Rutgers Prep to a commitment on the defensive end.
“The team really stepped it up defensively; they knew they didn’t put forth their best effort in the first half,” said McLean.
“Rutgers Prep did a great job of crashing; they had size and they were beating us to the 50/50 balls and loose balls in the first half and that was giving them extra possessions. We did a better job closing out, we hedged our screens and boxed out. We just got back to fundamentals defensively.”
McLean was thrilled to see Okorodudu and fellow junior Langston Glaude step up down the stretch.
“We have been waiting for Chris O. to have a breakout game and this was it,” asserted McLean, who got a game-high 14 points from Glaude with senior star and Miami-bound Davon Reed scoring nine points one day after he passed the 2,000-point mark in his PDS career.
“Chris has been steadily improving all season, getting comfortable with his new teammates and he has really stepped up. Langston was good at both ends of the floor. Offensively and defensively, he was a menace at both ends.”
The Panthers appear to be growing more and more comfortable with playoff pressure.
“It was a great team win and I told the young men that they earned the right to be back here, nothing was given to them,” said McLean. “It is tough go to the state finals back-to-back, they really stepped up.”
Okorodudu, for his part, believes the squad is going to keep giving its best.
“We have to come out strong, it doesn’t matter who we play,” said Okorodudu.
“We have to play our game and don’t let the other team dictate what we do.
This definitely gives us momentum, we have just got to keep it rolling.”