Boys basketball: Princeton struggles early, holds off feisty Streator

Grady Thompson’s 31 points lift Tigers over Benning, Bulldogs

Streator's Christian Benning (22) looses control of the ball in the lane against Princeton during the Dean Riley Shootin’ The Rock Tournament on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022 at Kingman Gymnasium

OTTAWA – The first game of the season is supposed to be when a team takes stock of what it has, what it does that works and what it has to improve on moving forward. Suffice to say, both Princeton and Streator have a few kinks to work out when they can find the time.

But for the Tigers, the fact that Grady Thompson was already in mid-season form made all the difference.

Thompson popped in 31 points, 10 of them in the final quarter when the Tigers finally pulled away from a very persistent Bulldog club for a 60-44 victory in their first game at the Dean Riley Shootin’ the Rock Thanksgiving Tournament in Ottawa’s Kingman Gym.

The Bulldogs stayed close most of the way behind the shooting of Christian Benning and Logan Aukland, a pair of free throws by the former with 1:03 left in the third period getting them within 37-34.

However, Thompson canned a post-up move to finished the quarter and early in the final stanza drained a 3-pointer to make the Tigers’ lead 10 and they held on from there.

“I knew we were going to come out sloppy,” Princeton coach Jason Smith said. “A lot of our guys just finished playing football and have only practiced for three days after some time off. But our second half was much better. Our half-court offense is going to have to get better and we know that, but hey, it’s the first game of the season … I was looking for effort, defense and rebounding and I was happy with the first two. The rebounding will get better.

“Benning is a real nice player and Streator’s a good young team. I was impressed with how they hung with us for so long, but at the end of the day, we did a nice job on them collectively.”

Benning finished with 21 points and Aukland 13 for Streator, which returns to action Tuesday against La Salle-Peru at 8 p.m. Princeton is off until Friday when it plays a doubleheader, meeting L-P at 1 p.m. and Oak Forest at 8.

Princeton jumped out to a 6-1 lead on buckets by Thompson, Noah LaPorte and Teegan Davis, but while it never trailed after the first few seconds of the contest, it was unable to stretch that margin to double digits until almost midway through the fourth period. An inbound deuce by Benning cut it to 22-21 in the second and the Benning tosses cut it to three late in the third.

But the Tigers started the final eight minutes with a Davis putback, two free throws by LaPorte and a Thompson trey to widen the lead to 10. Two tosses and a three-point play by Benning cut it to five, but Davis sank a dagger from the left side’s 3-point line with 3:57 showing to halt that momentum.

Benning finished with nine of his points in the final period, but the Bulldogs had five of their 13 turnovers in that quarter as well. They ended up shooting 29.7% and being outrebounded 46-24 on the night.

“If you would have told me how many points we were going to gift them in transition and with some lazy inbounds passes, I wouldn’t have believed it would be that close, but you look up and we’re right there in the fourth quarter, and we’ll definitely take that,” Streator coach Beau Doty said. “We’re a young team with Christian is the only one with varsity experience, plus having some illness going through our program … (but) we battled them hard tonight, got some first varsity experience for some against a team of that caliber.

“Princeton’s a tough team in any class. They’re super dynamic and Thompson is a great cutter, a great shooter … Overall, we had a lot of positives from tonight, so we can put this game behind us and come right back tomorrow and build on those positives.”