Illinois Valley

Boys basketball: Noah LaPorte, Princeton sink Newman in conference opener

Junior forward leads Tigers with 29 points

Princeton's Daniel Sousa finds what goes up must come down as Newman's Lucas Simpson and Dax Snyder go airborne Tuesday at Prouty Gym. The Tigers won 59-54.

The Princeton Tigers are going to have only seven home games this boys basketball season. They want to make the most out of every opportunity they get.

Tuesday’s home and Three Rivers Conference East opener went down to the last shot with Newman, unable to make a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds, and the Tigers held on for a 59-56 victory.

“It’s nice to win the conference opener, especially at home, because we don’t have many home games this year,” said PHS junior Noah LaPorte, who scored a game-high 29 points. “Newman’s a well-coached team. They always have athletes who can shoot and play ball. But we came out victorious today.”

The Comets (4-1) rode the hot hand of Evan Bushman, who closed out the third quarter with a trifecta of 3-pointers for a 43-39 Newman lead. The sophomore sharp-shooter sank another trey to give the Comets, who led as much as 49-42 early in the fourth quarter, a 52-48 lead with four minutes to play.

LaPorte, with the help of his wing man Korte Lawson, the Tigers’ point guard, took things over for PHS.

The 6-foot-6 junior forward with a wing span of an albatross, scored on a drive from the free throw line before taking a lob pass inside from Lawson for a hoop to tie the game at 52-52. LaPorte sank a free throw and scored on another lob from Lawson to give the Tigers a lead they never gave up at 55-52 with 1:50 left.

LaPorte’s game-high 29 points came on 13 baskets and 3 of 4 free throw shooting, scoring numerous times on lob passes by Lawson.

“We got that chemistry there. Him throwing the ball to me and me going to go get it. Knowing he’ll put in the right place and get me the ball, it’s nice to have,” LaPorte said.

“Noah gets behind that 1-3-1 and he’s pretty lights out,” PHS coach Jason Smith said. “Korte does a nice job. I don’t know how many assists he had. It had to be a bunch. It’s going to be hard to guard a 6-6, 6-7 kid who can jump.”

Newman senior Lucas Simpson, who led the Comets with 21 points, got a good look from the left corner at the end for the tie, but couldn’t get it to drop.

Lawson finished with 12 points, Daniel Sousa had 11 and Landen Koning added seven for the Tigers (3-2).

“We don’t get many home games. What’s this, the first out of seven,” Smith said. “We talked about going 1-0 in conference against a really tough and well-coached Newman team. We didn’t play our most consistent ball the first three quarters. I thought the fourth quarter with six minutes to go is when we really started to get in a groove and started playing well.

“We learned a lot Saturday from the Plano game about end-of-game situations. We watched some film and toward the end we talked about some things that helped us out at the end tonight. We were all on the same page and that helped seal the deal.”

The biggest lead of the night for either team in the first three quarters was six points with eight lead changes.

Lawson scored three straight hoops and passed off to Sousa for another. Liam Swearingen followed with a putback to give the Tigers their biggest lead of the night at 14-8 late in the first quarter.

Isaiah Williams (10 points) and Simpson answered with back-to-back 3s for the Comets and sophomore Garret Matznick, who played in the eighth grade at Princeton Christian Academy, scored on a drive to knot the score at 16 at quarter’s end.

Newman took a 29-27 lead at halftime, but LaPorte wiped it out single handedly. He scored three straight baskets for a 33-29 Tiger lead and after two baskets by Williams tied it, he scored again in the post to put the Tigers back in front at 35-33.

Princeton went up 39-35 on a steal and layup by Lawson before Bushman hit his trio of 3s for a 43-39 Comets’ lead at the end of the third quarter.

“Coach (Ray) Sharp always seems to have two or three good shooters. And we’re so focused on Simpson, I don’t even know what the No. 33′s name is, but he hit three in a row,” Smith said. “Lot of it is a lack of communication. We just got to talk. Trust me, we will work on that tomorrow.”

Sharp said it was a good early season test for the Comets coming off their championship at the Oregon Thanksgiving Tournament.

“It was a great game back and forth. We took that seven-point lead and we just couldn’t hang on to it,” he said. “They did a nice job getting it to LaPorte whenever they needed to get buckets and we couldn’t stop him. They didn’t make any 3s, but that’s not who they are this year, right? They’re an inside team. We just couldn’t keep them from getting it in the block.

“We played four good teams up at the Oregon tournament. Won that. Four great games. We knew we were ready to compete at that level. Thought both teams didn’t play great early. I thought as the game went on, both teams played better.”

* Newman won the sophomore game 35-31. Bushman and Carver Grummert had nine point each. Jackson Mason had 12 for the Kittens.

Kevin Hieronymus

Kevin Hieronymus

Kevin has been sports editor of the BCR since 1986. He previously was sports editor of the St. Louis Daily News and was a regular contributor for the St. Louis Cardinals' magazine. He is a 2021 inductee into the IBCA Hall of Fame (Media) and a 2023 inductee into the Shaw Media Illinois Valley Hall of Fame as "Distinguished Media."