It wasn’t going to be easy for the Princeton boys basketball team.
Heading to the Granite City Classic, the Tigers were scheduled to take on fourth-ranked of Class AAA in undefeated Alexandria on Dec. 29, at St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall.
But the Tigers were able to go punch for punch in the physical, tough game, out playing the Cardinals to knock off the undefeated Alexandria squad by a 75-65 score.
Seeing the team pick up the victory over the State runner up from last season was a big for the team’s prospects going forward said senior forward Ben Hallberg. “It was huge for us to put ourselves out there and beat a really good team,” said Hallberg, who keyed the Tigers on both ends with a hard-fought 14 points and nine rebounds in the victory.
The win would not have been achieved without the superb defensive effort given by Princeton said Tigers’ Head Coach Brett Cloutier. “Really happy with the defensive effort,” said Cloutier pointing to senior guard Cooper Nowak’s defense on Alexandria guard Kristen Hoskins, a Division 1 football commit, as a big key for the Tigers’ holding to victory.
“When Kristen Hoskins started getting downhill at will, we had to make an adjustment and get Cooper on him. I’m really proud of how Cooper stepped up and took that challenge on,” said Cloutier, as Nowak held his opponent to just 16 points on the night.
As the contest between the two heavyweights of Class AAA began, both teams can out swinging as the Tigers and Cardinals came out flying with good tempo as some high level basketball, fitting the billing for a top-10 matchup.
Both teams battled hard, trading runs of their own as Alexandria jumped out to a 19-14 lead before the Tigers responded with a 16-3 run of their own to hold a 30-22 lead with time running out in the first half.
The Cardinals would inch closer before half but would still find themselves trailing by a 38-33 score at the break.
Princeton was led by balanced scoring in the first half as Cooper Drews was the Tigers’ leading scorer at nine.
Into the second half of play, Alexandria would throw the first punch of the half, going on a quick 7-2 scoring run to tie the game just under two minutes into break as the lead that the Tigers worked hard to build quickly evaporated.
The Tigers would then score the next five points to again grab the lead before the Cardinals again answered with a burst of their own, to hold a 48-45 lead as the game would continue with the two proud programs exchanging scoring surges.
Sitting with Princeton trailing at 59-58 with 6:36 left in the game, the Tigers would then make their move.
Keyed by lock down defense, the Tigers began their run.
In winning time, the Tigers, sparked by a couple Hallberg and Nowak baskets off of turnovers by the Cardinals, would seize control of the contest as Alexandria was forced to foul, sealing a 10-point win for Princeton on the neutral court site.
While still getting that balance effort scoring with Nowak chipping in 15 points of his own along with Hallberg’s effort, Drews carried the load in the second half as the junior wing scored 16 second half points to propel the Tigers offensively to the win.
Matching the physicality of the Alexandria squad was Hallberg along with senior forward, Haydn Stay who added a double-double with 10 points, 13 rebounds to go with three blocks on the defensive end.
“One of our strengths is being big and being able to rebound and keep up physically with teams,” said Hallberg on the physical performance by the Tigers against the Cardinals.
With the victory, Princeton moved to 7-0 while sending Alexandria to 6-1.
Orono versus Tigers postponed
As a part of their second game at the Granite City Classic was a contest against another tough-foe in Orono, scheduled for the next day.
However, the contest was not played and has now been rescheduled to take place on Jan. 15, as the two teams will square off at Hamline University.
Sitting undefeated at 7-0 and firmly ranked inside the top-10 of Class AAA, Princeton returned to action on Jan. 4, hosting Sartell-St. Stephen, who came into the contest sitting at 7-1.
Following the game against the Sabres, was the kick off of the conference season for the Tigers as Princeton traveled to take on Monticello on the Magic’s court on Jan. 7.
Taking on Monticello will feature a familiar face as the Magic’s new head coach, Dillon Naumann, was on Princeton’s coaching staff for the past seven years.