By Cam Huffman
For weeks, the debate among Class AAA basketball fans in the area has been about whether Woodrow Wilson or Greenbrier East deserved the top seed in Region III, Section 2. Now there’s a new contender.
Princeton (13-4) used a big night from point guard Ryan Meadows and a mix of zone defenses that kept the Spartans (17-2) frustrated all night to defeat Class AAA No. 4 Greenbrier East 63-52 Tuesday, making the top of one of the state’s most loaded regions more crowded than ever before.
The top three teams now all have one loss against sectional opponents, with Princeton losing 67-51 to Woodrow Wilson in Beckley on Jan. 24, Woodrow Wilson falling 61-59 to Greenbrier East on Jan. 2 in Beckley and Greenbrier East dropping Tuesday’s contest on its home floor. In total, the three teams have just 10 total losses among them.
“This was a character win and a confidence builder,” said Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard of the win in front of a packed house at Spartan Gym. “We’ll enjoy it for a night, but the reality is that we’re in one of the toughest sectionals in the state of West Virginia. There are some very quality basketball teams there, so we can’t just rest on (the win). We have to come back and build on the success.”
East’s first loss of the season, a 62-60 stunner against Point Pleasant in the Big Atlantic Classic, might have been more about the Spartans than the opponent. But Princeton had a lot to do with this one.
The Tigers dominated the second half, outscoring Greenbrier East 37-22, including holding the usually high-powered Spartan offense to eight points in the third quarter.
Meadows paced Princeton with 24 points and five assists, while senior Hunter Walters scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Derek Jennelle also scored 12 points for a Princeton team that was 5-for-12 from 3-point range.
The Tigers, though, really completed the job with defense. East finished just 19-of-67 from the field, including a 5-for-31 mark from behind the 3-point stripe. Leading scorer Rondale Watson scored 16 points and dished out five assists, but he was 0-for-8 from 3-point range and 5-for-25 from the field. Watson couldn’t buy a jumper, and his drives to the rim that usually end in points saw shot after shot spin off the iron.
“He’s a great player, but he just had one of those nights,” said Greenbrier East head coach Jim Justice. “It gave it everything he had, but it just didn’t roll in for him.”
Despite those numbers, the Spartans — who found a big game from point guard Bruce Woodliff, who scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds — actually held a 38-30 lead late in the third quarter when 6-foot-8 center Obi Romeo — who finished with eight points and 19 rebounds — scored on a putback.
Seconds later, though, the foul-proned Romeo picked up this second foul and went to the bench as Justice wanted to be sure he would have him down the stretch.
Princeton took advantage, attacking the paint for four quick points, and then Jenelle stroked a 3-pointer from the corner to pull his team within one, 38-37.
The next trip down the floor, Watson was called for a charge, and his reaction to the whistle drew a technical foul. Meadows calmly stepped to the line and knocked down a pair, giving Princeton its first lead of the second half at 39-38.
The run extended to 11-0 by the end of the third quarter, and Walters scored the first bucket of the final frame to cap a 13-0 run that put the Tigers ahead 43-38.
They never trailed again.
“Halftime is a time of adjustments,” said Gilliard. “We wanted to take advantage of some of the things they were giving us. One of the things for us was to play under control and not rush things. We got in too big of a hurry at the end of the first half.”
Greenbrier East pulled as close as a single point and was within three with two minutes to play, but Princeton refused to give up the advantage.
Without Watson’s usual instant offense, the Spartans forced some bad shots down the stretch, and Princeton handled the pressure, making foul shots on its final possessions and forcing East into bad decisions on the way to the 11-point final margin.
As the visiting fans chanted “We are Princeton” in the closing seconds, Meadows took a few seconds to soak in the moment.
“Since middle school, Greenbrier East has always been a huge rival,” he said. “So my last game at Greenbrier East, it felt awesome to beat them.
“It was just awesome. We have the best fans in the state, and they were just as loud as the home fans. We’re moving in the right direction, and there’s no better time to peak than now.”
Princeton has now won five straight since the loss to the Flying Eagles.
Greenbrier East will be at St. Albans that same night.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Ryan Meadows 5 12-12 24, Derek Jennelle 4 2-2 12, Hunter Walters 7 2-4 17, Kyle Caron 2 0-0 4, Aaron Ferguson 2 0-0 4, Lamont Lee 0 0-0 0, Storm McPherson 0 0-0 0, Zen Clements 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 16-18 63.
Greenbrier East (17-2)
Dereck Weiford 3 1-1 8, Obi Romeo 4 0-0 8, Rondale Watson 5 6-6 16, Bryce Woodliff 6 2-2 17, Evan Ramsey 1 0-0 3, Owen Browning 0 0-2 0, Deante Erskine 0 0-0 0, Ryan Lindsey 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 11-17 52.
P 16 10 15 22 — 63
GE 14 16 8 14 — 52
3-pointers — P: 5 (Meadows 2, Jennelle 2, Walters); GE: 5 (Woodliff 3, Weiford, Ramsey). Fouled out — none.