OTTAWA – The Princeton boys basketball team shook off a tough second quarter against Oak Forest in Friday’s final pool-play game at the Dean Riley “Shootin’ The Rock” Tournament.
The Tigers ran to a 19-4 lead after the opening quarter, but the Bengals responded with a 19-2 run to start the second to close the gap to 30-27 at halftime.
Then, after an even third, Princeton’s Grady Thompson netted 13 of his game-high 35 points to help his team earn a 69-58 victory and an appearance in the championship game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against Pontiac.
“Grady is such a smooth player,” Princeton coach Jason Smith said, his team now 3-0. “You look up at the scoreboard, and he’s got 35 points, and you’re like, ‘How the heck did he get all those?’ But he is a quiet scorer, and that’s because he doesn’t take bad shots and most of the time finishes when he has the opportunity at the rim.
“We have our work cut out for us [against Pontiac]. We are going to have to contest shots, we can’t let them have open 3s, and we have to stop dribble penetration that can lead to kickouts for those 3s. If we can do those things and also hold them to one shot and done, I think we’ll be OK.”
Princeton used nine of Teegan Davis’ 20 points, six from Thompson and a defense that allowed Oak Forest to hit only one of 11 shots to grab the 19-4 lead.
The Tigers then turned the ball over nine times in the second, while the Bengals’ Chris Sieverin scored 10 points and teammate Amari Brownlee seven to cut the disadvantage to 30-27 at the intermission.
“Sometimes you have to go slow before you can go fast,” Smith said. “I thought we did an excellent job in the first quarter of playing at a comfortable pace, then they came out and made a run on us in the second quarter. We want to play fast, but Oak Forest’s press made us play too fast.
“We talked at halftime how that even though we started strong, we knew they would make a run at us. That’s too good of a team not to. We talked about how we were in a dogfight now and that we would have to continue to play the way we were in the half-court defense, but do a better job of taking care of the basketball and rebounding.”
The teams traded hoops for the entire third quarter, with Princeton holding a 47-44 margin heading to the fourth.
Princeton exploded out of the gate in the final eight minutes. Landen Koning scored his lone bucket of the game on a back-door layup, which Thompson followed with a 10-foot jumper and top-of-the-key 3-pointer to make it 55-44.
Oak Forest closed to three midway through, but then came consecutive layups by Thompson and back-to-back hoops from Teegan Davis and Christian Rosario (six points).
Princeton closed out the win in the final minute with a layup by Noah Laporte and four free throws by Thompson.
Thompson finished 13 of 16 from the floor and 3 of 4 from the arc while also grabbing a game-best nine rebounds. Teegan Davis added five rebounds, while Laporte posted six points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Sieverin paced Oak Forest with 16 points and four rebounds, with Wiggins adding 10 points and five rebounds.
The Tigers finished the contest hitting an impressive 60% (28 of 47) from the floor, while the Bengals made 47% (23 of 49) of their attempts. Princeton also held a 30-18 advantage on the glass.
“We’ve only had five practices with everyone, so I know early on here there are going to be miscues here and there,” said Coach Smith. “We will get better, that I know for sure.”