VINCENNES — A win is a win is a win, especially when it's achieved in a gym where you haven't won for 10 years.
Thus the Tigers left Alice Arena happily with Friday night's 52-51 win over Vincennes Lincoln, after twice trailing by five points the first quarter and seeing a 30-20 halftime lead turn into a 41-40 deficit with little over six minutes left.
"In the past we'd have just folded and lost. Now that we have experience, it's different," said 6-foot-1 senior and four-year starter Nick Albin, who hit a trio of 3-point shots en route to 14 points, one fewer than 6-5 junior Zach Dove, as the Tigers won their Big Eight Conference opener and gave themselves a 5-1 season record to take Thursday night vs. visiting Castle in their Toyota/Gibson County Teamwork Classic opener.
"We got the ball to Zach near the end," said Albin.
"Every time we got down the last couple years, things went downhill from there," said 6-2 junior Stephan Wilkerson, who scored 12 points and made key defensive plays down the stretch, including a shot-block in the waning seconds.
"We played just well enough to win, and we'll never apologize for a win," Coach Ryan Haywood said after the Tigers' won in Alice Arena for the first time since Dec. 14, 2007, when they prevailed 81-80 in three overtimes.
"Our lack of execution hurt the second quarter, when Princeton got after us defensively. And Zach Dove's offense and his rebounding made the difference," said Vincennes Lincoln Coach Josh Thompson, whose Alices took a 4-3 record Saturday to Evansville Central.
The hosts, who received 12 points each from 6-2 senior Jason Fortune and 5-11 junior Spencer Corrona, plus 10 from 6-2 junior Hunter Hopwood, took a 41-40 lead when 6-2 senior sub Brayden Seger hit a 3-point shot. Zach Dove replied by turning an offensive rebound into a 3-point play when fouled. Six-foot senior Sam Corrona, brother of Spencer, cut to the basket and tied the score at 43 with an uncontested layup with just under five minutes left. Zach Dove, whose 6-9 twin brother Matt blocked three shots in a 90-second stretch late the third quarter, broke the tie with another rebound basket. Albin hit a running four-footer, and Zach replied to a Spencer Corrona basket by curling in a layup for a 49-45 edge.
Alices 6-3 junior sub Isaac Lane scored, but Zach hit a running four-footer. Spencer Corrona replied with a 17-foot basket, and the Tigers' 51-49 lead was endangered by a turnover at 57 seconds.
Wilkerson stepped up with a steal and Albin, at 20.2 seconds, hit the front end of a one-and-bonus free throw for what would prove the winning point but not end suspense. Zach rebounded a Lincoln miss, and Wilkerson blocked Spencer Corrona's driving layup, but senior teammate Rylin Stough missed the front end of a one-and-one at 5.3 seconds. And, fouled by Wilkerson, Sam Corrona made both ends of a one-and-one at 2.3 ticks to close the margin to one.
"No, we didn't tell Sam to purposely miss his second free throw by klinking the ball off the rim," Thompson said. "I felt our chances to get an offensive rebound would be pretty slim, especially against Princeton's height. I felt we had a better chance to get a steal."
Albin in-bounded to Stough behind the baseline, a legal play. Stough made a return pass to Albin in fair territory, where he was fouled by Seger at 1.9 ticks. Another free throw miss, but the ball came loose and Zach Dove batted it toward the sideline — it rolled out of bounds as the horn sounded.
Wilkerson admitted that when he fouled Seger at 2.3 ticks, at half-court, he did so purposely so that the Alices' couldn't launch a three-point shot. "Coach Haywood just wanted us to play hard, and that's what I did. Yeah, I wanted to do that," the 17-year-old Wilkerson said of that foul.
"Wilkerson's block on Spencer's shot after that was a great play. When he fouled Seger that was a smart play. I felt we had a good chance to get a three-point shot from the corner," said Thompson.
"Stephan made that block from behind," said Haywood
"It's never easy to win in Vincennes. Give that team a lot of credit for coming back from 10 points down. Our execution wasn't the best, but we got the ball to Zach. For a while when we played man-to-man, Devonte Hardiman came in and did a good job defensively. And Matt was a tree down low — defensively he did a good job of turning things. He's a force."
Of Lincoln's 17 baskets, 8 were 3s, including two each by Fortune and Hopwood. Zach Dove scored nine of his 15 points the fourth quarter, while Wilkerson's seven in the third included his only 3. Stough, in his first 2017-18 start after missing the first three games due to injjury and subbing in the 69-68 Dec. 8 loss to Evansville Bosse, hit a first-quarter 3.
Princeton jayvees evened their record at 3-3 by winning Friday's opener 55-45. Freshman Rhett Thompson scored 14 points. Junior Hunter Carey's nine came on a trio of 3s, while freshman Jurrien Ballard scored eight with two treys. Six-three freshman Ethan Bushey led the jayvee Alices with 13.