March 13, 2019

Tripling Win Total from Last Winter, PHS Boys’ Hoops Made Big Strides

INSIDE STUFF: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Jaylen Johnson puts up a shot in a game this season. Senior forward Johnson enjoyed a solid final campaign for PHS, providing inside punch for the Tigers as the went 12-13 and made the state tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton High boys’ basketball team, its valiant battle against powerhouse Freehold in the opening round of the Group 4 Central Jersey sectional proved to be a microcosm of a positive season.

The underdog 14th-seeded PHS jumped out to a 20-15 first quarter lead over third-seeded and eventual sectional champion Freehold, hit a drought in the second quarter to fall behind, and then battled tooth and nail before succumbing 60-50.

“We had a pretty good game plan; the guys played their tails off and we did a lot of good things,” said PHS head coach Patrick Noone.

“We just got to a point where we couldn’t score in a stretch during the second quarter and at beginning of third. We kept it within striking distance; I think we were down eight with about three minutes left.”

Tiger senior captain and star guard Brendan Rougas did some great things in his finale, tallying a game-high 15 points.

“Brendan was awesome, unfortunately it was his last game,” said Noone. “We are going to miss him dearly. He hit a three early and just kind of rode off from there. He played great.”

Overall, PHS made great strides this winter, going 12-13 after suffering through a 4-21 campaign in 2017-18.

“We made a lot of really good progress, our seniors were great,” said Noone, whose Class of 2019 also included Jaylen Johnson, Jack McMahon, Tyler De Lalinde, and Evan Filion, who was sidelined by injury

“Brendan did an outstanding job, he had a great career for us and the same for Jaylen, Jack, and Tyler. Those guys really led us this year which was huge for us. That had a lot to do with it.”

The emergence of junior star Jay Jackson had a lot to do with the team’s improvement.

“Jackson was named second team All-CVC, he had an outstanding year,” noted Noone.

“Even when he didn’t get his points, his rebounding and his defense was there. I think that speaks volumes, he was unbelievable this year.”

Three other juniors, Gefen Bar-Cohen, Jack Suozzi, and Riley McMahon, also provided some outstanding play.

“Gefen had phenomenal year; Jack had some big games as did Riley McMahon,” said Noone. “It was a great team effort.”

Two sophomore starters, point guard Tim Evidente and forward Ethan Guy, gave the Tigers a big spark.

“What a pleasant surprise that was,” said Noone. “We knew they were good, but the way they came in and handled the pressure of playing varsity right off the bat was unbelievable.”

Through the winter, the Tigers showed an ability to deal with the pressure.

“I think the best part of the season was that we were in every game,” said Noone.

“We played the two teams that were in the sectional final, Trenton and Freehold, and we were in both games with them. Against Trenton, it was a tie game with three minutes left and against Freehold, we were up 10 early in the game. That was a good sign for us that we were in those games.”

Another good sign for the program has been the way in which former players have supported the team.

“We had a lot of alumni coming to games, that is extremely important,” said Noone.“When guys come back, that means they had a good experience. They want to be around and say hello and see how everything is going. They don’t feel disconnected; that is a sign that we are building something.”

With three seasons guiding PHS under his belt, Noone believes things going well.

“We have done a good job of building, usually the third year is when you see how you are doing in terms of building he program,” said Noone.

“For the freshmen and sophomores, it is all they know about the program. I think we are in a pretty good spot after the season we had this year. We had a couple of heartbreaking losses that would have had us above .500; I think we are moving in the right direction.”

Boasting a core four of returning starters in Jackson, Bar-Cohen, Evidente, and Guy, PHS appears poised some big seasons ahead.

“We have potential there,” said Noone. “We have to really tap into that this summer and hope that the guys play a lot and the progress continues.”