2A boys basketball: Byron turns up the heat, knocks out Princeton in title game

Byron wins the battle of the Tigers in sectional finals 59-43

Princeton's Noah LaPorte is sandwiched between Byron players Jack Hiveley and Carson Buser on a drive to the hoop during the Class 2A sectional final Friday, March 1, 2024, at Mendota High School.

MENDOTA – It was 24-23 at halftime, and it was anybody’s ballgame.

The Byron Tigers decided it was theirs for the taking.

Byron turned up the defensive pressure and outscored the Princeton Tigers 14-4 in the third quarter to open up an 11-point lead and outscored Princeton by 15 in the second half to win going away for a 59-43 win in Friday’s Class 2A Mendota Sectional championship.

“They definitely picked up the defensive end, scoring transition points. First half we didn’t have too many turnovers, but second half the turnovers picked up, and they feed off that defense,” Princeton junior Noah LaPorte said. “Our half-court defense wasn’t too bad. They really feed off that 1-2-2 press.”

“We wanted to fight, and they went on that big run, and it feels like it was over from there. We just ran out of time and gave up a little bit,” Princeton junior Jordan Reinhardt said.

Princeton's Daniel Sousa reacts on the bench in the closing seconds against Byron during the Class 2A Sectional final on Friday, March 1, 2023 at Mendota High School.

Princeton ends its season back in the sectional finals for the second straight year with a 17-16 record.

“Who would have thought we’d get back here, other than the basketball team? We expect to be here every year. We don’t work so hard for nothing. We better get back here next year, same thing.”

—  Noah LaPorte

LaPorte said it’s definitely better to get back to this point and lose than not make it back at all.

“Who would have thought we’d get back here, other than the basketball team?” he said. “We expect to be here every year. We don’t work so hard for nothing. We better get back here next year, same thing.”

“This team was doubted the whole year. We weren’t even expected to win the regional championship,” Reinhardt said. “We were having fun and playing as a team. We wanted it badly, but things don’t always go our way.”

LaPorte scored to start the third quarter off for 25-24 Princeton lead.

Then it was all Byron.

Byron scored eight straight points, and after a LaPorte basket Byron scored six unanswered to take a 38-27 lead at the end of third quarter.

The eventual sectional champs continued to roll in the fourth quarter with the first four points, getting off to a 10-4 start to go up 48-31. Ryan Tucker had three straight buckets to cap that run.

“Once we were able to limit them to one shot and get into transition, we got on a couple runs,” Byron coach Matt Huels said. “They’re big and strong, but I thought we had the speed advantage. We just couldn’t get the rebound first half to get those transition buckets.

“Once we made a run, I think our press started to wear on them.”

Senior Daniel Sousa hit a 3 for Princeton, but then Byron closed shop with six more points to go up 56-34. PHS coach Jason Smith cleared his bench as his Tigers fell short in the sectional championship again.

“We couldn’t handle their press for four quarters. Hats off to Byron. They were the better team tonight,” Smith said. “I’m so proud of this team in the way they fought to win and get us here. Love this group of seniors. They will be missed.”

Tucker led all scorers with 26 points, and teammate Jack Hiveley added 16.

LaPorte and Daniel Sousa combined for 49 points in Tuesday’s semifinal win over Rockford Christian, but managed just 25 Friday (LaPorte with 13), just eight in the second half.

Byron (29-2) advances to Monday’s Sterling Supersectional against Chicago Latin at 7 p.m. Latin beat Christ the King 43-32 at the Elmhurst Sectional on Friday night.

“It’s great for our basketball program to experience some success with our football team being so good,” Huels said. “It’s just a great senior class. Great group of kids that bought in to what we were doing five years ago.”

Princeton's Daniel Sousa drives to the hoop as Byron's Jack Hiveley defends during the Class 2A Sectional final on Friday, March 1, 2023 at Mendota High School.