STERLING – The Newman boys basketball team led by one point after the first and third quarters Friday night, but it couldn’t quite close out a win after a back-and-forth Three Rivers Conference East Division game against Princeton.
The Comets trailed by a point with about three minutes remaining, but the Tigers shut the door on a comeback with a late run for a 68-62 victory.
Newman started the game with a 9-2 run in the first three minutes, capped by a Marcus Williams 3-pointer with 5:18 to go. Then Princeton fought its way back and closed out the quarter trailing, 17-16.
Point guard Nolan Britt pulled down an offensive rebound and laid it back in at the buzzer to put the Comets back on top after one.
In the second quarter, the Tigers continued to chip away at the deficit. Kolten Monroe scored on a fastbreak layup to tie the game at 33-33 with about two minutes to play, then hit a corner 3 to put Princeton up 36-33 with about 1:25 to go. The score was 36-33 at half.
“The last two games we played, we started off on poor starts, so it’s important for our team to get off on the right foot,” Princeton coach Jason Smith said. “I thought we were sloppy early, but we got through it and played very well in stretches.”
Both teams struggled with turnovers, especially early on. Newman forward Lucas Simpson played the passing lanes adeptly, notching five steals in the first half and creating much-needed opportunities on offense.
Princeton’s defense, anchored by Kaden Monroe, also created several fast-break opportunities with blocked shots and steals.
“Our 1-3-1 was applying pressure like always,” Britt said. “They went 1-3-1 at the end of the first half, and that’s when we really started turning it over, so we just gotta wait to get open and be smarter with the ball.”
Kaden Monroe snagged 10 of his 12 rebounds in the first half, creating numerous second-chance opportunities for Princeton’s offense. Teegan Davis added eight rebounds for the Tigers.
Kolten Monroe said second-chance points were a big reason Princeton was able to hold its lead.
“It was huge to get second-chance opportunities because it’s extra possessions, and we needed them,” said Monroe, who got off to a fast start by scoring 12 of his 13 points in the first half.
Princeton’s Grady Thompson scored 11 of his 14 first-half points in the second quarter. In the second half, he scored 22 points to help put away the win. Thompson’s aggressive, attacking mentality and offensive efficiency were huge factors in the Tigers’ victory.
The Comets missed seven free throws in the first half, and finished the game 2 for 11 from the line. In a close game, foul shots were of paramount importance.
“We were 2 for 11 for the game. We go 9 for 14, we win the game,” Newman coach Ray Sharp said. “Lucas normally makes a lot of his free throws. He had a tough night at the line tonight, and not sure why that was, but we have to come back tomorrow and make some free throws in our walkthrough, our shootaround before we go play Byron up in West Carroll.”
In the third quarter, Newman started to get momentum back on its side. Britt hit a 3-pointer with 2:47 to go to restore the lead at 46-45, then Ayden Batten hit a 3 with 55 seconds left to make it a 54-51 lead. The Comets held a 54-53 lead as time expired in the third quarter.
Princeton swung the game back in its favor in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the game with a 7-2 run.
“I think we just needed to shoot our free throws better, have our sense of urgency up,” Simpson said. “Play better in the fourth quarter and play our defense better, apply more pressure.”
Williams offered Newman a glimmer of hope with a layup through contact to cut the deficit to 66-62 with 56.2 seconds to play. Thompson then went 2-for-2 from the free throw line with 30.9 seconds on the clock to ice the game.
Britt finished with a team-high 16 points for Newman, Simpson finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and six steals, and Williams chipped in 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.