OAKLAND CITY-- When a well-oiled machine is clicking on all cylinders, it's easy to tell. Princeton Community scored the first 18 points of Saturday's Toyota Classic final, winning convincingly over Wood Memorial for the second time this season, 94-51.
It was a blitz from the start, as Princeton's Stephan Wilkerson, Jurrien Ballard and Hunter Carey combined to hit six 3-pointers in the first quarter to get the Tigers off and running.
"I was really proud of the emotion, the energy. I thought we came out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and we took this as important. We came out and got off to a really good start," Princeton coach Ryan Haywood said.
It's almost a feeling of shell-shocked when a team gets out and is leading 28-9, and for Wood Memorial there wasn't much that they could do. Princeton was knocking down shot after shot, and the boulder was already rolling downhill.
"I think I read in the paper last night, coach Haywood mentioned you got to pick your poison with them. I couldn't put it any better than that," Wood Memorial coach Dustin George said. "We realized we aren't going to be able to sit in that zone for very long. When Princeton's clicking on all cylinders, they're tough."
The Tigers expanded on that lead in the second quarter, as the big fellas inside, Zach and Matt Dove got going. By the time the halftime break hit, Princeton held a 52-25 lead and they had four starters in double digits. Paxon Bartley, the Wood Memorial all-time leading scorer who was coming off a 39 point performance against North Posey, had 10 at the break.
"I thought we did a pretty good job on Bartley for the most part. He got 20 still, but you know, he's going to get that. We've got good shooters. Teams like we've said all along, are going to have decide how to guard us," Haywood said.
The game was all but decided by the halftime break, but Princeton was able to get the lead to 78-38 by the end of the third quarter, allowing Ryan Haywood to empty his bench. All five Tiger starters finished in double digits, led by Matt Dove and Wilkerson who each had 18. Zach Dove had 15, Ballard 13 and Carey 12 for Princeton. Bartley's 20 led Wood Memorial, who's next highest scorer was eight from Coltin Page.
The Trojans had a good week, despite the conclusion. They notched two wins over Evansville Christian and North Posey, got their confidence up, and have improved drastically as they head into the turn of the year. They'll hope to build on that momentum for an upcoming stretch that features games vs. Pike Central on Jan. 4 and at Washington on Jan. 5.
"If we're looking for a positive, I'd say that (kind of team) is what we need to see. I think we've got a stretch of games coming up that has a lot of potential for us. None of them are a cakewalk by any stretch, but we're going to have to bring what we've had the last couple nights into that," George said. "With all do respect to those guys coming up, we're not running into anybody with the size and athleticism we saw tonight."
This is Princeton's first Toyota Classic Championship since 2010, and it breaks a streak of seven straight years where a SIAC team has come to Gibson County and won the title. Castle had won the previous three years. This is a goal that the Tigers can check off their list as they look forward to competing for a Big Eight title and beyond.
"We didn't want to leave anything out there. I went through all the seniors, and asked 'is this important to you?' Those younger guys kind of saw, this meant something. They came out and played really hard and really well. I'm happy for them. Hopefully its just a small piece of what we have moving on later down the road," Haywood said.
Princeton moves to 8-2, and is riding a five-game win streak since back-to-back losses to Bosse and Harrison. Come the new year, they'll play at Boonville Jan. 4 and home against South Knox Jan. 5.
"Coaches a lot of times talk about breaking the season up into three separate seasons, before Christmas, after Christmas and the postseason. We got through season one 8-2, Toyota Classic champions. But we've got work to do, we've got things we can get better on."