Sparked by Bar-Cohen’s Emergence as a Force PHS Boys’ Hoops Heading in Right Direction
CO-STARRING: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Gefen Bar-Cohen heads to the hoop in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, Bar-Cohen tallied 17 points to to help PHS edge Princeton Day School 70-68. The Tigers, who fell 58-56 to Hamilton last Friday in moving to 8-7, play at Robbinsville on February 1 and then host Notre Dame on February 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Gefen Bar-Cohen served as a swing player for the Princeton High boys’ basketball program last winter as a sophomore.
He started the season on the junior varsity and was promoted to the varsity midway through the campaign.
Last Wednesday at Princeton Day School, Bar-Cohen helped swing a nip-and-tuck battle between the crosstown rivals in the favor of PHS, starring in the fourth quarter as the Tigers pulled out a 70-68 win.
Bar-Cohen made some key rebounds and hit four key free throws in the waning moments as the Tigers weathered the PDS surge.
“I have really been working on my free throws this year; I just knew that if I hit them the game was over,” said Bar-Cohen, who ended the evening with 17 points. “We have been in this position many times, so we just had to keep our composure and finish it out.”
Early on, PHS was in position to blow out the Panthers, jumping out to a 22-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“Our game plan was to play uptempo,” said Bar-Cohen. “We wanted to get as many steals as possible; we were jumping the passing lanes. We just really wanted to have high energy and I think we did that.”
Bar-Cohen and his teammates sensed that PDS was going to play with a lot of energy as it trailed 37-24 at intermission.
“Coach [Pat Noone] at half told us, ‘they are going to come out strong,’” recalled Bar-Cohen.
“‘They are shooters and they are going to be knocking down shots.’ That is exactly what they did, I have to give them a lot of credit.”
Sure enough, the Panthers came out firing, going on a 22-8 run to take a 46-45 lead late in the third quarter. PHS settled down, pulling ahead 49-47 heading into the fourth quarter and then holding off PDS down the stretch with some smart ballhandling and clutch shooting from the line.
“I think this is a really big win for our team; we just want to keep it rolling for the rest of the season,” said Bar-Cohen.
Bar-Cohen’s emergence as a star has helped get the Tigers on a roll. “I really worked on my shot,” said Bar-Cohen. “I grew a lot since last year, so I have been taking it a lot harder to the basket this year. I have been a lot more aggressive.”
PHS head coach Noone liked the way his players showed their growth down the stretch against PDS.
“That was the halftime talk, they are just too good, they are too talented,” said Noone.
“You knew they were going to come and they were going to do it just like that. They just get to the basket so well, they can shoot 3s. I think we made a great adjustment on their 1-2-2 diamond set up. We kept somebody in the middle and we ran the baseline and it opened up for us to get down the court and we converted our layups.”
In Noone’s view, the win over PDS was the product of the work ethic being displayed by the Tigers this winter.
“They are a great bunch of guys and they work their tails off,” asserted Noone. “That is the culture we are trying to build here and these guys have bought in and they deserve all of the credit. They were unbelievable tonight.”
Bar-Cohen’s progress exemplifies that culture. “He came down the stretch and hit some big free throws and got some big rebounds,” said Noone.
Senior stars Jay Jackson and Jaylen Johnson played a big role against the Panthers, controlling the paint. “Their last four games have been unbelievable,” said Noone. “They move the ball well, they skip it out. They get their points. They have just been playing great.”
The program is showing great progress this winter as PHS has already doubled its win total from last season, qualifying for the state tournament in the process.
“This is our eighth win so we clinch the state berth; when you earn it with the over .500 record like the old days, that is something cool you can build on, especially with where we have been before I got here,” said Noone, whose team fell 58-56 to Hamilton last Friday in moving to 8-7 and plays at Robbinsville on February 1 and then hosts Notre Dame on February 5.
“We were 1-20 last year before we won the last three games; it is a hell of a turnaround. Everybody has bought into that team, which is a real cool experience.”
Bar-Cohen, for his part, sees a bright future for the Tigers in both the short and long term.
“We have been playing really well,” said Bar-Cohen. “We have a lot of talent on they team. We have really good seniors but we also have a really good core in the sophomores and the juniors, so we will be good not only this year but next year.”