EVANSVILLE — If the award-winning movie True Grit is refilmed, Princeton Community basketball boys could play roles.
“A team must play with grit and our kids did that,” Coach LaMar Brown said Friday night after the Tigers’ 53-46 come-from-behind win over Evansville North in the River City Showcase in the University of Southern Indiana’s first-year Screaming Eagles Arena.
“I told myself early-on that I had to find my grit,” 6-foot-5 junior Rhett Thompson said while putting hand on heart after scoring a team-high 21 points and taking a game-high 10 rebounds as the Tigers gave themselves a 2-0 record to take into the coming Saturday’s home opener vs. Pike Central.
“Princeton was a lot tougher than we were” said Evansville North Coach Jason Roach, whose Huskies hope to rebound from a season-opening loss when they host Mount Carmel come Friday.
“When we trailed 6-2 after the first quarter, I asked Brian Douglas (longtime assistant coach after playing for the Tigers a generation ago) if that two-point quarter was a school record,” said Brown, who like Roach assisted Shane Burkhart at Evansville Bosse.
“We had to work for shots closer-in, not settle too often for threes. The second half, our defense helped us get better offensive looks.”
Thompson, often the sixth man last season when the Tigers shared the Big Eight Conference title and became sectional champs for the first time since their 2009 state championship, said it “feels great to have played on a college court. But it took us a while to get over our early nervousness. And shooting is different here because the ceiling is different than in high school gyms.”
Five-eleven junior and returning starter Jurrien Ballafrd, who authored 13 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals while playing the point-guard role against pressing defense, called the USI court experience “really cool. We worked hard in preparing for this game. And after the slow start, we started executing on offense and we locked in on defense.
“Coach Brown tells us to be patient on offense. And our team defense was great.”
Five-ten junior Ethan Cochren provided a lift off the bench with eight points, six in the last 3 minutes 9 seconds.
“A fun atmosphere and a good crowd, but when I get the opportunity I have tio do my thing,” said Cochren.
A team win.
Six-foot senior Collin Holzmeyer’s six points included the basket (assisted by Ballard) that kept the Princetons from going scoreless the first quarter.
Six-four junior Dominic Hardioman authored five points and a team-high three assists.
Six-two senior Braden Matthews went scoreless but took four rebounds in the team’s 39-36 board edge.
Six-two sophomore Drew Morris grabbed one rebound while playing four minutes.
And 6-1 sophomore sub Colton Smith, in his four minutes, got position to take a charging foul that voided a North basket.
Thus the Tigers overcame a game-high 24 points by 6-3 junior Chandler Moore, who hit two threes; and the 6-5 frame of senior Tristen Fisher, who took seven rebounds before fouling out with 2:40 left.
Patience, which impacted a 10-0 mid-second-quarter run to a 16-14 lead, stayed despite the Huskies’ 9-0 early-third-quarter run. And it rose to a peak in the fourth after Ballard’s three-point play brought the night’s fourth and last tie at 35. Regaining the ball, they worked it almost a minute before Thompson hit a three for a 38-35 lead.
North led 39-38 via Fisher’s loose-ball basket and Moore’s two free throws, the latter with 5:07 left. But Thompson’s running seven-footer brought the third lead change and a 40-39 edge with 4:12 left.
After Thompson added a free throw, Cochren took a defensive rebound and drove coast-to-coast for a layup.
After two free throws by North sophomore sub Aidan Blackford, Thompson hit two freebies. And after Moore hit one free throw, Cochren hit a three from the left corner for 48-42 control -- which became 50-42 when he and Hardiman each made one free freebie.
While each team struggled afield, Princeton shooting 32.5 percent (14-of-44) and North 29l.4 percent (15-of-51), the Tigers shot 23-for-32 (712.5 percent) on ffree throws, including Thompson’s 10-for-11.
“This shows that we can face adversity,” said the 17-year-old Thompson, whose double-double marked his second, including 23 points and 12 rebounds three nights earlier in the season-opening 71-59 win at Wood Memorial.
Screaming Eagles Arena
PRINCETON COMMUNITY (53)
Holzmeyer 2-4 2-4 6, Matthews 0-2 0-0 0, Thompson 5-16 10-11 21, Hardiman 2-6 1-2 5, Ballard 3-12 7-9 13, Cochren 2-4 3-6 8, Morris 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 14-44 23-32 53..
EVANSVILLE NORTH (46)
Presswood 0-4 0-0 0, Redding 2-6 0-0 4, Fisher 1-5 0-0 2, Moore 8-16 7-11 24, McKinney 0-3 0-0 0, Caddell 2-6 3-5 7, Coburn 1-2 0-0 3, Decker 0-2 2-2 2, Skinner4 1-2 0-0 2, Blackford 0-2 2-2 2, Crenshaw 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-51 14-20 46.
Prince.Comm. 2 18 12 21--53
Evans.North 6 11 18 11--46
3-point goals -- Princeton 2-17 (Cochren 1-3, Thompson 1-6, Holzmeyer 0-1, Hardiman 0-1, Ballard 0-6), North 2-15 (Coburn 1-1, Moore 1-3, Presswood 0-1, redding 0-1, Blackford 0-1, McKinney 0-2, Decker 0-2, Caddell 0-4). Fouls -- Princeton 17, North 23. Fouled out -- Fisher. Rebounds -- Princeton 39 (Thompson 10), North 36 (Fisher 7). Assists -- Princeton 5 (Hardiman 3), North 6 (Presswood 3). Steals -- Princeton 6 (Ballard 3), North Redding 2, Moore 2, McKinney 2). Shot-blocks -- Princeton 3 (Thompson 2), North 1 (Fisher 1). Turnovers -- Princeton 12, North 12.