April 14, 2024
Illinois High School Sports

Boys basketball: Princeton tops rival Bureau Valley in regional semifinal tussle

Tigers go 19-22 from free-throw line, 8-8 in final 1 1/2 minutes

Princeton’s Noah LaPorte puts up a shot early in the Tigers’ game against Bureau Valley Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophetstown class 2A basketball regional.

PROPHETSTOWN – It was just the kind of game that was expected.

Rivals Bureau Valley and Princeton met for the third time this season and seventh time in postseason play.

They battled to the end with the Tigers sinking 8 of 8 free throws in the final 1:39 to hold on for a 63-56 victory in the Class 2A Prophetstown Regional semifinals.

“It was a hard-fought battle. We were 1-1. They won at their place, and we won at our place. This was the tie-breaker right here, and they’re leaving the Three Rivers, and we may not play them again,” Princeton junior Noah LaPorte said.

“It was a hard, grind-it-out kind of game from teams who know each pretty well playing for the third time this season,” Princeton coach Jason Smith said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a 30-point blowout. I knew it was going to be under 10. I told the coaching staff the first one to 60 is going to win, because that’s the type of game both teams play. We got to 60 first and we won.”

The Tigers (15-15) will face Morrison in Friday’s regional championship at 7 p.m. The Mustangs stunned top-seeded Rock Falls 73-66 in Wednesday’s first semifinal.

“All bets are off. We’ve seen it from time to time. Anything can happen in postseason,” Smith said.

“We’re going to keep it rolling, focus on Morrison Friday and try to win another one,” LaPorte said.

The Tigers made their move in the third quarter, taking a 37-35 lead on a 3-pointer by Daniel Sousa from the left wing at the 3:22 mark.

They never gave it up, going up 47-42 on another 3-pointer, this one by Tyson Phillips at the 1:25 mark.

Corban Chhimm scored on an acrobatic drive with 1:00 left to pull the Storm within 47-44 at quarter’s end.

Baskets by LaPorte and Korte Lawson gave the Tigers their biggest lead of the night at 53-46 with 4:48 to play. Landon Hulsing scored in the post to make it a four-point game at 55-51 with 3 1/2 left to play.

Princeton put the game away at the free-throw line making eight straight in the final 1 1/2 minutes, finishing 19 of 22 on the night from the charity stripe. The Tigers came in shooting just over 60%.

“Nineteen of 22, who would have thought?” Smith said. “How about [Sousa], 11 of 12. I said what are you doing missing one free throw for? He was huge for us tonight again. He’s been huge all year. He was a difference maker.”

“Down the stretch, we rebounded very well. First half we didn’t rebound good at all,” LaPorte said. “And we hit our free throws. Coach said we were 19 of 22. That helped us big time. We won by single digits and made 19 points on free throws.”

Bureau Valley’s Corban Chhim looks to pass while being guarded by Princeton’s Noah LaPorte Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophetstown class 2A basketball regional.

Sousa led the Tigers with 21 points and LaPorte had 20.

BV’s Chhim led all scorers with 26 points with Landon Hulsing adding 16.

BV coach Jason Marquis said the Storm gave it their best shot.

“I think our kids played hard. Couple of bunnies you’d love to make. Love to get to the free-throw line a little bit more,” he said. “Most of the things you participate in in life don’t have a scoreboard. So you have to put your best effort forth. Lot of lessons learned in basketball; one of them is to how to handle disappointments.”

The Storm used a 10-1 run to overcome a 17-14 Princeton lead in the second quarter.

Chhim got the Storm started with a 3-pointer off the glass to tie it at 17, and Bryce Helms went coast to coast off a rebound for a layup and a Storm lead.

Hulsing followed a hoop by LaPorte with a three-point play on a putback and free throw to make it 22-19. Chhim scored a drive, using every bit of iron, and added the free throw to make it 25-19 at 4:17.

Landen Birdsley posted up and Chhim scored on a steal and layup to cap the Storm’s 10-1 run for a 29-20 lead.

An ill-advised foul by the Storm on Sousa on a desperation 3-point attempt led to three free throws to draw the Tigers within 30-27 at the half.

Princeton’s Noah LaPorte stuffs in a dunk early in the Tigers’ game against Bureau Valley Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophetstown class 2A basketball regional.
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."