The new era in Princeton Community boys' basketball continued Saturday night with a 66-52 win over Pike Central in the Tigers' home opener.
"They're really good. They're big inside, and Stephan Wilkerson is one of the best players we'll see," Pike Central Coach Hunter Elliott said after the junior guard scored 27 points including four three-point baskets as the Tigers stayed unbeaten with their fourth win.
This is Princeton's first 4-0 start since 2009-10, when the program included four of the top six players from the 2009 Class 3A state champions who went unbeaten in 29 games. Their postseason aspirations will be tested Friday when they host Evansville Bosse, ranked No. 3 in last week's 3A statewide poll and a state runnerup as recently as 2016. Not since Dec. 13, 2013, when they won 72-68 in Tiger Arena in what became their last winning season, have Princeton boys beaten Bosse.
"If we beat Bosse, we'll win state," the 17-year-old Wilkerson said when asked what the coming Friday test will tell the Tigers.
"I feel pretty good about what we've done so far. We've got the players this year."
Senior guard Nick Albin, who scored 16 points including a three-point hit and 9-for-10 free throwing vs. Pike Central, calls the 4-0 start "a great feeling after three losing seasons. Losing was tough, but we learned a lot from those experiences and that's helping us now. We're just playing our game.
"Bosse will be a good test, but I think we can win if we do the right things."
Which the Tigers did most of the night vs. Pike Central, whose Chargers stand winless in two games but proved tenacious.
"We took care of the ball. Just five turnovers," Coach Ryan Haywood said. "We have shooters and we can score inside and out. If we keep taking care of the ball, we'll be a threat. Stephan showed again tonight that he can shoot and drive to the basket. "Bosse will be a tremendous measuring stick for us. They're the class of Southern Indiana, a favorite to win state." And . . .
"I think we'll, have more people here next Friday than we've ever have for a boys' game in our gym. The girls drew big crowds in Jackie Young's years, but Friday's crowd may be the biggest."
Six-six junior Zach Dove, teaming with 6-9 twin brother Matt on the inside, scored 13 points vs. Pike Central, which received 24 points including four threes from 6-5 senior Bryant Nalley, the only returning starter from a team that won a second straight sectional title. Six-two senior Breyton Booker hit a trio of threes the second quarter as the Chargers, down 30-15 and 33-18, inched within 37-26 at halftime. Down 42-26 shortly afterward, they scored the next seven points, all by Nalley, and inched within 50-43 when 6-1 junior Tyl Tormohlen closed the third quarter with a three. The Tigers reasserted control by scoring the fourth quarter's first six as Wilkerson scored on a drive, junior Drew Robb fed Zach Dove a basket, and Albin hit a running four-footer.
"We played hard and really well, including a nice job on the Dove boys," said Elliott, former Pike Central player in his first season as head coach after playing for Oakland City University.
"We competed hard, but a lot of our good looks didn't fall. Princeton's did. And we didn't get to the foul like like they did.
"Nalley has gotten some college looks from Division III, Division II and junior colleges. He could play at Oakland City. If we keep playing as hard as we did tonight, we'll be just fine."
Haywood said the Chargers "are well-coached, and they had a game plan. They did a good job on us inside, but we shot the ball well."
Haywood said senior guard Rylin Stough, who like Albin became a varsity player as a freshman, is apt to play against Bosse after sitting out with a foot injury. Fellow senior Maleek Hardiman likely will be idled until after Christmas by an Achilles tear. So the Tigers will become a deeper team than the current 4-0 cast.
Pike Central won the jayvee opener 57-51 as sophomore Noah Whann scored 19 points. Juniors Hayden Kabrick and Christian Benson, the latter a varsity sub, respectively scored 14 and 8 jayvee points as each hit two threes. Freshman Jurien Ballard led Tiger jayvees with 15, including a three plus 10-for-12 free throwing. Freshman Ethan Cochren scored eight and junior Hunter Carey seven; Carey also scored a varsity basket.