By Cam Huffman
Class AAA No. 9 Princeton (11-3) at Class AAA No. 14 Woodrow Wilson (7-4)
Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center
What this means:
It may be January, but this one will have a March feel. On the line is positioning in Region III, Section 2 and, as always, bragging rights.
“It’s a huge game,” admitted Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard. “It’s a divisional game, and that’s always important, but on top of that it’s Woodrow.”
If Woodrow wants to end the regular season as the top seed in the sectional, tonight’s game is a must-win. The top spot is likely to come down to Princeton, Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East, and the Flying Eagles are already a little behind after dropping a home game to the Spartans. A win tonight, though, would put head coach Ron Kidd’s club right in the mix.
A Princeton victory would eliminate Beckley from the top seed — barring some highly unusual circumstances — and set up a showdown between Greenrbier East and Princeton in Fairlea on Feb. 12.
Woodrow is also playing to get back in the state discussion in Class AAA. The Flying Eagles were seen as a threat to win a 17th state championship after a 3-0 start that included lopsided wins over Wyoming East, Hurricane and Huntington, but the 61-59 home loss to Greenbrier East started a downward spiral that included four losses in five games, three of them at home.
Beckley has since recovered and as won three straight over Cabell Midland, Nitro and Capital. On Tuesday, the Flying Eagles flew past the Cougars on the road, winning 67-43.
Woodrow is still receiving votes in the Associated Press high school poll, and a win over Capital could help it move back into its usual spot inside the top 10.
“They’re still Woodrow,” said Gilliard, showing tremendous respect for the program. I’ve seen them play a couple times, and they still play Beckley basketball.”
Princeton, which actually beat Woodrow 58-57 the last time the teams met last February, is still looking for more respect. Its only losses this season are to Class AAA No. 1 South Charleston, No. 12 Hurricane and No. 10 George Washington, and the Tigers have wins over Class AA No. 1 Bluefield, sectional rival Shady Spring and Huntington, among others.
Players to watch:
Ryan Meadows, Guard. One of the top players in the Mountain State Athletic Conference, the 5-foot-10 point guard is averaging more than 20 points per game.
Hunter Walters, Guard. The other Tiger averaging in double figures, the 6-3 senior is scoring 11.5 points per game. He had 20 in a win over Ripley on Tuesday.
Donte Nabors, Guard. The Flying Eagles’ junior 2-guard is averaging nearly 20 points per contest and has picked up his game in recent weeks, becoming a the team’s top scoring threat.
Andrew Johnson, Guard. The senior point guard was the quarterback of the football team and he fills the same role leading the Woodrow offense on the hardwood. He’s averaging 13.1 points per game and is Beckley’s top 3-point threat.
Keys to the game:
When they’re able to run, the Flying Eagles look like a typical Beckley team. Woodrow’s transition offense is a thing of beauty, and it has the athletes to finish almost every time.
During the early-January skid, though, Beckley struggled to find offense out of its halfcourt sets. The Flying Eagles have been better at that in recent games, but Princeton’s best opportunity for a ‘W’ is to make it a halfcourt game whenever possible.
Princeton’s best offense this season has come from its guards. The Tigers have some size, including 6-7 Aaron Ferguson, who had a huge game in the win over Bluefield, but the key for Woodrow will be shutting down the perimeter and limiting second-chance opportunities.
“We need to make good decisions with the basketball, and our role players need to knock down some shots,” said Gilliard. “We were doing that early on, but we’ve gotten away from that.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.