December 25, 2019

Senior Guard Suozzi Has Big Opening Night, But PHS Boys’ Hoops Falls to Hightstown

JACKED UP:  Princeton High boys’ basketball player Jack Suozzi dribbles the ball in a game last season. Last Friday, senior guard Suozzi scored 15 points in a losing cause at PHS fell 67-54 to Hightstown in the season opener for both teams. The Tigers return to action when they compete in a Holiday Tournament at Rumson-Fair Haven on December 27 and 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jack Suozzi had been struggling with his shot as the Princeton High boys’ basketball team went through the preseason.

But on opening night last Friday against visiting Hightstown, senior guard Suozzi found the range when it counted, hitting a three-pointer in the first quarter and tallying nine points in the half as PHS took a 28-27 lead at intermission.

“I haven’t been making my shots recently, but once I got warmed up I was feeling it a little more,” said Suozzi. “I try to help my team out in any way possible.”

The Tigers came out firing against the Rams, inspired by a raucous atmosphere in the gym.

“Last year we had our first game away and this year we had out first game at home,” said Suozzi. “We were really fired up and we came out and played hard.”

In the second half, PHS kept playing hard, but Hightstown pulled away to a 67-54 win, fueled by a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter.

“We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” said Suozzi, who ended up with 15 points on the evening, including a pair of three-pointers.

“In the first half, we played well tempo-wise. At the end, we could have slowed it down a little more and played our tempo. We played at their tempo and sped up. That is why we didn’t execute as well as we could have.”

Having come off the bench for much of his PHS career, Suozzi was excited to be in the starting lineup for the opener.

“It is really fun starting and being out there with my teammates,” said Suozzi.

“I could come off the bench but starting is really fun. I am trying to make the most of this. It is my last year.”

As he looks to make last PHS campaign special, Suozzi has diversified his offensive game. “Last year I was more of a catch and shoot guy,” said Suozzi.

“Now I am trying to incorporate the pump fake and drive into my game and the pull up jump shot like I hit in the first half a couple of times.”

PHS head coach Pat Noone was proud of how his team stayed in the game after falling behind 10-4.

“We got down early, the outrebounded us early,” said Noone. “We hung in there. We took that first punch on the chin and did a great job coming back. Riley [McMahon] hit a great three to close out the half.”

Reflecting on the second half, Noone acknowledged that the Rams wore down his squad.

“They did a good job with their post players, I think they knew that had an advantage there,” said Noone.

“Their physicality got to us. They beat us on the offensive boards, they outrebounded us like crazy.  We just didn’t have that timely bucket or timely rebounds. We lost a couple of 50/50 balls that we needed.”

Suozzi gave the Tigers what they needed with his strong performance.

“Jack hit some nice shots, he is one guy we are relying on,” said Noone. “He didn’t shoot well until tonight but he hit some big threes.”

Senior forward and Kenyon College-bound Gefen Bar-Cohen hit some big shots in the opener, ending up with a game-high 17 points.

“Gefen is good, he is going to play college basketball next year,” said Noone.

“He is a good athlete. I wouldn’t say he played his best but he is a such a difference maker.”

While Noone was disappointed by the result on Friday, he sees good things ahead for his squad.

“We did a great job of battling,” said Noone, whose team is next in action when it competes in a Holiday Tournament at Rumson-Fair Haven on December 27 and 30.

“We had a great first half, we hit some shots, the ball movement was good. Even in the second half, the ball movement was good. As we said, if you make shots, you look a lot better than if you don’t.”

Suozzi, for his part, believes that PHS can take some key positives from the effort against Hightstown.

“They are a really good team, and we saw we could compete with them,” said Suozzi.

“We played really hard tonight. Now we are looking forward to playing against the other teams in the CVC and seeing how we match up against them.”