Tigers battle past Spartans, 58-46

Grant Essenmacher/Daily Clarion Princeton Community's Matt Dove (32) shoots over South Knox's Justin Fickling (10) during Saturday night's game in Princeton, Ind.

PRINCETON-- No two wins are the same, but they all count the same. The Princeton Community Tigers continue to rack them up, winning their 7th straight Saturday night against a tough South Knox team, 58-46.

The Spartans came into the game at 8-2. They employ a system that has five capable scorers on the floor at once. They don't take bad shots, and they defend. Those things travel, making it a tough matchup for anybody.

"As far as a possession type team, this is as good of a team running this type of offense there is around. They got a lot of different ways that they can score on ya, really all of them can shoot the 3. It was a tough matchup for us," Princeton coach Ryan Haywood said. "We hit some timely 3's down the stretch that really gave us some distance there."

It was a grind throughout, as neither team led by double digits until Princeton pulled away in the final quarter. It was 10-10 after one, as South Knox's Justin Fickling got hot, scoring seven early. He did pick up two fouls however, which would be a theme of his night.

Come the second quarter, the Tigers went on another one of their patented before half runs, stretching a lead out to seven points behind a seven point quarter from senior Stephan Wilkerson. Zach Dove had six in the quarter on two three-point plays, really establishing position down low against an undersized Spartan frontcourt. 6-6 center Walker McCrary did not play for South Knox.

"Really Matt and Zach, both I feel like are playing really well down low. We knew one of them would have a mismatch. We didn't know how they would match up with us, but we knew would really be able to expose one of the posts down low," Haywood said.

"That's a credit to Matt that it was Zach. Teams respect him enough offensively, that they're putting the better, bigger defender on him (Matt). That's really opening things up for Zach."

After leading 28-21 at the break, it was South Knox's turn to chip away at the lead by making a run. The Spartans cut it to three at one point in third quarter, thanks in part to Noah Thomas's two 3-pointers, but Princeton was able to maintain a 40-35 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

The Spartans continued to grind and chip away at the deficit, and on another Thomas 3 they tied the game at 40 with 4:36 to go. But on the next possession, Fickling fouled out as Matt Dove converted a three-point play, giving the Tigers the lead 43-40 and sending one of the Spartans most dangerous scorers to the bench. Princeton wouldn't look back from there.

Zach Dove, Jurrien Ballard and Hunter Carey all converted their trips to the free throw line down the stretch, icing the game for Princeton who eventually made the score look a little wider than the actual game would indicate. Zach Dove finished with 16 points, Stephan Wilkerson 13 and Ballard 12. Gage Bobe led the charge with 14 for the Spartans, while Thomas had 13 and Fickling finished with 11.

It was another total team effort for Princeton, who completed a 2-0 weekend after beating conference rival Boonville Friday 71-51.

"Stephan was back to his old self offensively, I thought he was really good. Jurrien and Muckerheide both did a good job at the point. Carey made some timely 3's for us. Devonte (Hardiman) was really good defensively for us, we had to use him late there to cover up Thomas on the 3-point line for us. It was a good team win," Haywood said.

Princeton now moves to 10-2 with a big week upcoming against two rivals. They'll host Mt. Carmel Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. before traveling to Gibson Southern Friday for a 7 p.m. tip. Zach Dove and Wilkerson will likely both eclipse 1,000 career points next week. Dove needs just five more, while Wilkerson has 22 to go before they each hit that threshold.

As for the matchup with Aces, it'll start first and foremost with stopping Austin Rager. Mt. Carmel switched up defenses a lot the last time the two teams met, trying to neutralize the many threats Princeton has on offense. The game will be a rematch of the 68-57 Princeton victory during the Toyota Classic last month.

"I really expect a lot of what we saw the first time, with some box-and-ones and triangle-and-twos. They might mix up who it's on, but I'd expect a lot of the same. We'll be much better prepared for it this time around."

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