Peter Mahotiere and his teammates on the Princeton High boys’ basketball team weren’t fazed even though they trailed 20-6 at Princeton Day School last Thursday.
“We knew we couldn’t give up,” said senior forward Mahotiere. “Our fans were there and we knew we couldn’t disappoint them so we started playing like a team. We didn’t do one-on-one stuff, we did 5-on-5 basketball.”
PHS did claw back to knot the game at 38-38 in the third quarter only to fall behind 48-38 early in the fourth quarter.
Once again, the Little Tigers didn’t come apart. “We just banded together,” recalled Mahotiere.
“We were like OK, we need to rebound and box out and we can’t make a 15-point shot. We need to chip away, chip away and just keep on going.”
The teams went into overtime tied at 55-55 and PHS pulled away to a 69-59 triumph as Mahotiere took the team on his broad shoulders.
“I was just posting up and my teammates got me the ball,” said Mahotiere, who ended the evening with 17 points.
“They knew I had a mismatch and they wanted to utilize it. I just posted up, they got me the ball and I made post moves.”
After having lost close games to Notre Dame and Trenton in the last week before topping Hopewell Valley on January 28, the Little Tigers were hungry to make a statement.
“We are tired of close losses so we were like OK we are going to win now because we need a win and we are better than our record and we need to show it,” said Mahotiere.
“It is great to be close to good teams but a win is better and we are going to carry it over.”
Mahotiere aims to carry PHS, whether or not he is leading the offense. “I try to score but if I am not scoring, I don’t get down,” said Mahotiere. “I try to get rebounds. I try to get my team open shots. I try to get assists. I try to get us second, third, and fourth chance shots.”
PHS head coach Mark Shelley sees Mahotiere a vital cog for the PHS team.
“He is really a senior leader, I saw him this morning before our first exam and he just looked at me and said ‘I am ready,’” said Shelley.
“He doesn’t say a whole lot. Even when he is not scoring, he does so many other things. He hits the boards and he is tough for a big man to guard with the ball. He relieves pressure for our guards.”
PHS utilized Mahotiere’s inside presence to put the pressure on PDS in OT.
“Towards the end when they had some foul outs, they went with a real small lineup to try to spread the floor and try to beat our press,” said Shelley.
“We ran what we call thumbs down, it is basically our isolation set for our big man and we ran it four times in a row and I think Peter got one layup and he went to the line two other times. We said at beginning of overtime, we are fine, we have an advantage. I don’t think they can score enough to beat us and we are going to get Peter inside and the team agreed with that.”
Shelley likes the improvement he has seen from his players this season as they have bounced back from some tough losses.
“I am probably as proud of them as I have been of any team,” said Shelley, whose squad beat Hightstown 69-53 last Friday to improve to 5-10 as junior guard Kevin Kane led the way with 26 points.
“I’ve been fortunate through the years to have some really good teams and sometimes the most affirming are the ones that have struggled because you see the growth both individually and collectively. I feel like in the last week we have grown a lot; we played so well at Notre Dame and almost beat Trenton and really laid it on Hopewell in the second half.”
Coming across town to beat PDS was certainly an affirming experience for the Little Tigers.
“It is also important for these guys, no matter whether you win a state title or not, there are always one or two games you look back on as special,” said Shelley.
“These guys, may not appreciate it now but in five or 10 years this will be a game I think they will remember. I think as a coach that is what you want for them. You want a positive fulfilling athletic experience and this is part of that. It is a rivalry game and it was special to win.”
In Shelley’s view, the triumph should have plenty of impact on the short term as well.
“I think it means several things,” said Shelley, whose team hosts Lawrence on February 8 before playing at Hamilton on February 11.
“It continues to provide encouragement for their growth. They feel like what we are doing is working. It helps them trust each other and jell as a team. It gives us some important momentum. We feel like there were a lot of games that we should have won that we didn’t. We feel like we can beat anybody that we still play. We really believe that. We feel like if we play as a team, that will happen. We respect everybody we play because we certainly know that anybody can beat us.”
Mahotiere, for his part, is confident that some good things can happen as he wraps up his PHS career.
“There are eight seniors and I have been playing with all of them since sixth grade,” said Mahotiere.
“I want to end off with a bang, all of us do. I think we are going to start winning more games and even if we don’t make it to the playoffs, we are going to go out with a bang and do our best.”