Smithfield: Sports

Princeton boys hang on to top East Columbus

Princeton's Alex Whitley (3) dribbles the ball past East Columbus’ Jordan Freeman (32) during Monday’s first-round game.
Princeton's Alex Whitley (3) dribbles the ball past East Columbus’ Jordan Freeman (32) during Monday’s first-round game.

Princeton boys basketball coach Jeff Davis coach knew what to expect when his team squared off against East Columbus in the opening round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs Monday night.

The Gators’ big men, 6-foot-6 center Elijah Gresham and 6-foot-5 forward Marquese King were as good as advertised and combined for 27 points but, in the end, weren’t enough to upend the Bulldogs who received 20 points from Michael Wooten en route to a 57-53 victory.

When patient on offense, Princeton was able to work the ball inside for easy layups and built a nine-point lead in the second half.

When impatient on offense, the Bulldogs turned the ball over which helped the Gators get back into the ball game late in the fourth quarter.

Aided by seven Princeton missed foul shots in the final quarter and a pair of high-arching three pointers from reserve A.J. Wike in the final 30 seconds, East Columbus (9-12) clawed to within 56-53 with 10 seconds to play and a chance to tie the game.

However, on the Gators’ ensuing possession, a traveling violation prevented any potential game-tying shot from ever getting launched the Bulldogs advanced to the second round to play host to Wallace-Rose Hill on Wednesday.

"We made it harder than we had to," Princeton coach Jeff Davis said. "We'll take it. At this point of the season, you'd rather win ugly."

The Bulldogs (17-7) had a tough time dealing with Gresham and King early on as the tandem accounted for all of the Gators’ points in the first quarter.

King was saddled with foul trouble all night, however, and finished his night with 12 points and six rebounds in limited time when he fouled out early in the fourth quarter.

Gresham, also hampered with foul trouble, led East Columbus with 15 points and nine rebounds but was neutralized by Princeton’s Colby Norris (11 points) and Tanner Woodard, who put up 10 points and seven rebounds of his own.

“Considering how much foul trouble their two best players were in, I felt like we should have closed it out better,” said Davis. “I was disappointed a little bit with how we (finished the game).”

The Bulldogs get a chance to improve their efforts and win another playoff game Wednesday with a visit to Wallace-Rose Hill.