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Callahan O’Neil defends Monticello player, Carson Kolles’ drive to the basket. O’Neil and the Tigers were able to get the best of the Magic, pulling out a 80-57 win.  

For a team that consistently puts up 70 to 80 points a night, one would think offense is the biggest key to the Princeton boys basketball team’s success. According to Head Coach Brett Cloutier, the most crucial time on the court for the Tigers is when their defense and full-court pressure has the chance to shine.

“When we are playing our best basketball our defense is turning into offense for us,” said Cloutier.

St. Francis and Monticello each got to experience that defensive pressure first-hand as the Tigers were able to roll past the Saints 90-73 on Jan. 26, followed by a blowout 80-57 win three days later against the Magic. Both contests were on the road for Princeton.

Starting the contest against St. Francis, it seemed like the Saints were prepared to handle the Tigers’ pressure defense as the home team was able to jump out to a 23-15 lead.

A well timed timeout by Cloutier flipped the switch for the Tigers. “We were down there 23-15, then we called a timeout and refocused. Our guys did a really good job responding and really locked down on the defensive end. We were able to speed them up, get some turnovers and get some baskets,” he said.

Princeton was able to rebound from that initial punch thrown by St. Francis and recovered to outscore the Saints by 25 points the rest of the contest, grabbing the 17-point victory.

Haydn Stay and Cooper Drews led the way offensively for Princeton as the two combined for 45 points, 12 rebounds while also dishing out nine assists in the winning effort.

Up next for the Tigers was a tough test on the road against a motivated Monticello team. “That’s the toughest gym to play at in the conference. We traditionally have tight games there,” said Cloutier.

After the first half, it seemed like this contest would be heading down to the wire as well with Princeton holding on to a 39-31 lead.

The Tigers came out of the locker room playing with fire as the they were able to build their lead to 18 points with 15:18 remaining in the contest. The Magic were able to cut the lead to just 10 points but never any closer than that as Princeton was able to coast to the 80-57 win.

Stay once again starred on both the offensive and defensive ends with 23 points, 11 rebounds and two steals, spearheading the Tiger’s defense and press.

Cloutier had high praise for the junior after the victory. “He [Stay] is so electric is in our press where he just reads passing angles so well and his first two steps are so unbelievable. He’s all over the place defensively. I don’t know if there is anyone in the conference more well-rounded defensively than Haydn.”

The two wins over the conference foes improved Princeton to 3-0 in the conference and 4-1 overall.

Despite winning by the large margins, there is still room for improvement said Cloutier. “We are happy we are at 4-1 but we definitely know we are nowhere near set and ready for section play. We got some holes we got to fill up,” said Cloutier, adding that the team needs to cut back on the turnovers moving forward. “We’d like to be around 12 to 14 turnovers instead of the 18 we are hovering at.”

Sitting as the lone undefeated team in conference play, Princeton returned to the court Feb. 2, hosting North Branch followed by a match up against Big Lake Feb. 4.

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