AGONY OF DEFEAT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball players, Davon Reed, left, and Ford Schneider, show their disappointment after PDS lost 47-45 to Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game. The defeat left the Panthers with a final record of 19-8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Davon Reed hit the floor soon after the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team fell 47-45 to host Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game.
The senior star lay prone on the court with his shirt pulled up over his head, absorbing the disappointment of the defeat as Pennington fans celebrated around him.
After PDS head coach Paris McLean pulled Reed away from the surging crowd, the record-setting guard was able to put things in perspective in the wake of the scintillating contest which saw neither team lead by more than five points.
“It was definitely a great game; we got our money’s worth,” said Reed, who scored a game-high 24 points in the setback. “Unfortunately, we didn’t walk away with the win.”
While Reed walks away from PDS with a program-record 2,102 points on his way to the University of Miami men’s hoops team, he desperately wanted a title to go with his individual feats.
“I am definitely grateful and proud of myself that I scored it but I would trade it in for both of these championships, the counties and the preps,” said Reed.
In a grueling stretch, which saw PDS play five tournament games over six days, the Panthers came agonizingly close to a title double. In the county tournament, the fifth-seeded Panthers topped No. 12 Steinert 59-56 in the first round on February 16, defeated fourth-seeded Ewing 74-56 on February 18 in the quarters, and then fell 65-56 to No. 1 and eventual champion Notre Dame last Wednesday in the semis.
Meanwhile on the Prep B front, No. 2 PDS topped third-seeded and defending champion Rutgers Prep 46-38 on February 17 in the semis before the heartbreaking loss to top-seeded Pennington last Thursday.
“We don’t like to make excuses, playing five games in six days is tough but you know what I am proud of my guys, we came out and battled every game,” said Reed. “We win three straight and the last two were against two really good teams and it was a little different, we weren’t able to pull it out.”
After splitting two regular season games with rival Pennington, PDS was determined to win the rubber match.
“This game we knew was for all the marbles; my boys were just ready to play,” said Reed, who averaged 23.2 points a game this season.
“We know that everybody else is starting to believe in us but we knew from the start so we got to know we can win this game.”
While PDS head coach McLean was proud of his team’s effort, the pain of the defeat stung.
“What a great game; it had everything you wanted, back and forth play, drama, big shots, big opportunities, just two great programs going at it,” said McLean, whose team ended the season with a 19-8 record.
“Each team has marquee players; both teams are doing extremely well and that’s a testament to the way our program has grown and the way that Pennington has grown. It is great for the county. It is a lot to take in but this one hurts, this one hurts.”
The Panthers had a chance to win the game or put it in overtime as they had a final possession with 5.4 seconds in regulation.
“They made the last foul shot and we get a timeout,” recalled Mclean.
“We run situation drills everyday in practice. We drew it up, we knew they would key on Davon. We got a good look to the basket, we just didn’t finish. We came up short; it was on the lip of the rim.”
The impact of Reed on the PDS program over the last four years has been nothing short of amazing.
“You could go with numbers and points and wins and losses but what he has done has brought respectability back to the program,” said McLean.
“He has made other players say OK PDS is an option. He has been fantastic for us as a school leader, as a basketball leader. He has made his team better. He himself has became a better person.”
The team’s core of seniors led the way, helping PDS get stronger as the season unfolded.
“It has been a great senior class; I described them on Senior Day as a diverse group in terms of not just outward identity but in terms of their interests and their position play,” said McLean.
“Good teams need to have strong seniors and we had strong senior leadership this season. Every last one of them, Alec Jones, Tavante Brittingham, Tom Martino, Davon Reed, and B.J. Dudeck, right down the line in no particular order because any one of them could step up and they know our motto, you don’t have to be a captain to be a leader. Anybody can be a leader.”
Coming to the end of the line last Thursday made for an emotional scene in the Panther locker room.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room, coaching staff, players,” said McLean.
“When you put in that much time and effort to battle back and come here back-to-back years, that is tough. They fought through it, they willed it to the end. We didn’t even run out of gas, a couple of things just didn’t go our way. But there was no quit; what a special, magical run. If you look at our program, 11 wins, 15 wins, 16 wins, 19 wins, we keep getting better.”
Even with the graduation of Reed and his classmates, McLean is confident that PDS can keep getting better.
“We have great young kids,” said McLean, who will welcome back juniors Langston Glaude, Deante Cole, Chris Okorodudu, and Ford Schneider.
“It is a great learning experience. I am tired of learning experiences, though. We need to take the next step. We have some great young men coming back and we have some great JV players. I just hope that people don’t think that because Davon Reed leaves, the PDS program is going to roll over and die. No, it is going to continue to build and be stronger.”
Reed, for his part, is proud to have helped the Panthers build something special.
“It wasn’t always pretty,” said Reed, reflecting on his career. “We weren’t always down, we weren’t always up. I am glad about the way the program is headed. It is headed in a good direction; people really care about basketball at Princeton Day School.”