Survive and advance is a phrase coaches always use in the postseason.
Woodrow Wilson was in full survival mode against longtime rival Princeton Friday night. In a battle that resembled some of the old school classics between the two, the Flying Eagles again found a way to break the hearts of the Tiger faithful.
Leading by four points with 3:18 to play in the contest, Princeton could not get any shots to drop and Woodrow Wilson ran off eight straight points to win 68-64 and claim the Class AAA Region 3, Section 2 title at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
"Our kids just gutted it out. I tell you what, Princeton had some shots at the end that they could have hit to go up one, but our kids gutted it out," Woodrow Wilson head coach Ron Kidd said. "They did the right things at the end to win the game."
After controlling the game for most of the night by hitting big shots at key times, the well ran dry for the visitors over the final stretch.
"Unfortunately for us, the ball didn't go in on a layup and we missed foul shots from a shooter that doesn't normally miss foul shots," Princeton head coach Robb Williams said. "Even when we were down by two, we had three or four wide open 3-point looks that we typically drain. (Woodrow Wilson) is obviously a top five team for a reason. We felt like we had the game, but you have to be able to close out quality teams. They fought back and we couldn't score at the end. When you have your foot on the neck, you have to close it out."
While many in attendance and around the state of West Virginia gave Princeton little chance of beating Woodrow, the Tigers came to play.
"We don't get much respect being that far down south and we don't always get to play some teams that people know," Williams explained. "We have beat some good teams and played others well. We were confident coming in tonight. I told them we just had to believe in ourselves. They played team ball and we played pretty doggone good against them."
Princeton hit the ground running, building an 18-15 lead after the first quarter and, after five straight points from junior Delathan Wilborn, led 25-17 with just under six minutes to play until halftime.
The Flying Eagles were prepared for big nights from Princeton stars Ethan Parsons and Peyton Brown. However, Wilborn took the home team somewhat by surprise. Wilborn was a thorn in Woodrow's side all night, scoring 15 points in each half.
"Princeton is a very good team," Kidd said. "Brown and Parson and No. 1 (Wilborn). I am not sure of his name, but I am going to find out. He shot the ball extremely well."
A timeout from Kidd brought renewed fervor from Woodrow over the final six minutes of the first half.
"I think we kind of underestimated them a little bit at the beginning," Woodrow Wilson senior Richard Law said. "We just had to keep fighting. We pulled it out when we could have folded, but we kept grinding."
The first-half Woodrow rally came on the back of Ben Gilliam, who after a key stickback from Maddex McMillen, slammed home two straight offensive rebounds to help the Flying Eagles take a 34-31 lead at halftime.
"There is no doubt he made the difference tonight and we struggled," Williams said about Gilliam's play. "We thought if we banged on him some, we would get him out of his game. He did a couple of times emotionally, but he is just a monster inside. We didn't have anything for him."
Princeton was far from done and came out firing to start the second half. The Tigers outscored Woodrow 13-3 over the first four minutes of the third quarter. The stretch included a 10-0 run after Gilliam had to sit down with his third foul.
"We made a run when they took Ben out and they had to bring him back sooner than they wanted to," Williams said. "Ben made the difference, there is not a doubt."
With his team reeling, Law stepped up and restored order for Woodrow, hitting three crucial 3s to put the Flying Eagles back in the game.
"It started in the first half. I wasn't really playing to my potential," Law admitted. "I was getting in my own head and coach sat me down. After halftime I knew I just had to come out and play, not worry about scoring. I just wanted to do whatever my team needed. That is when stuff started opening up for me. Everybody was setting great screens and got me the ball when I was hot."
Brown beat the third quarter horn and Wilborn opened the fourth quarter with another 3 for a 59-53 lead, but Princeton would score just five points over the final six minutes of the game.
Gilliam finished the night with 25 points, while Ayden Ince was steady again for Woodrow with 20, and Law scored 10.
"I thought Ben was unstoppable. Ben did some things that I couldn't believe in that first half with those tip-ins he got," Kidd said. "Ben is one of the best big men in the whole state of West Virginia. He showed that to everyone tonight."
Woodrow Wilson (17-7) will host its Region 3 co-final Tuesday against St. Albans, while Princeton (16-8) will go on the road to George Washington for its co-final contest.
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Grant Cochran 2, Delathan Wilborn 30, Peyton Brown 14, Ethan Parsons 7, Brayden Quesenberry 7, Jon Wellman 4. Totals: 24 6-12 64.
Woodrow Wilson (17-7)
Richard Law 10, K.J. Jones 6, Ben Gilliam 25, Ayden Ince 20, Maddex McMillen 5, Tavea Davis 2. Totals: 21 20-24 68.
P: 18 13 28 8 — 64
WW: 15 19 19 15 — 68
3-point goals: P: 10 (Wilborn 6, Brown 4), WW: 6 (Law 3, Ince 3). Fouled out: P (Wellman)