It was Mahtomedi’s first state tournament game since 1961, and Princeton’s first since 1932, and the school that had waited the longest came away with the victory.
The No. 4 seeded Tigers fended off the No. 5 Zephyrs 68-63 on Wednesday at Williams Arena — overcoming a 32-point, 16-rebound game by J’vonne Hadley — in an entertaining and hard-fought contest in which each squad showcased excellent athletic ability if not their best shooting.
“We competed hard, but we were were a little off our normal shooting, which leaves us with some what-ifs,” Zephyr coach Keith Newman said.
“We lost, but it was fun. Such a fun atmosphere,” senior guard Zac Centers reflected. “We played a good game. We hustled, we rebounded. But we didn’t shoot well behind the arc. They got more shots to fall than we did, and they wanted it more than us on the boards at the end.”
Mahtomedi (24-6) drops into the consolation round against Holy Angels (24-5) on Thursday, 2 p.m., at Concordia-St. Paul.
Hadley, who’s starting to get some attention from the Gophers, had a great game on their court, slashing to the hoop repeatedly and making 14 of 25 shots, although off the mark (1-for-5) on three’s.
“We could have won. I definitely think we are the better team,” Hadley said. “But they were good. They prepared well for us. They knew a lot of our plays.”
Princeton (27-3) had admirable balance with Adam Williams sinking 17 points, James Flicek 16, Reilly O’Neil 15 and Jon Stimmler 12, with the 6-7 Stimmler pulling in 17 rebounds, including 11 on offense. Williams made seven assists.
“Hadley got his average, Centers got his average, the rest of them were below,” said Princeton coach Brett Cloutier, assessing his defense. As for his offense, “We had four guys in double digits and all seven did their roles.”
Centers, whose 3-point shooting the Zephyrs need in big games, could not find the range, shooting 2-for-12 behind the arc, but he went to the hoop well enough to finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also missed a couple free shots when the score was 65-61.
Mahtomedi led 33-29 before the Tigers reeled off 13 straight points, starting with a Williams 3-pointer, then two fast-break layups by Flick, then six straight points by O’Reilly including another breakaway layup.
Princeton led 42-33 at that point and stayed at least three points ahead he rest of the game. The Zephyrs kept the pressure on, pulling within 63-59 on a 3-pointer by Luke Ricker, but missed too many shots to make a serious run.
Neither team shot particularly well with Princeton at 37 percent and Mahtomedi 35 percent overall and both struggled from long range, but the Tigers started hitting some late and finished 7-for-26 to the Zephyrs’ 4-for-26.
“Just keep shooting, and trust yourself,” said Williams, who finished 5-for-13, “and the muscle memory will come back.”
Williams, asked what concerned him about Princeton, said, “They are super-long. The bottom three on their 2-3 make it hard to get open in the corner.”
Princeton, averaging 84.8 points, with four 1,000-point scorers, presents some defensive problems.
“We played defense like we wanted to, except we lost their shooters more in the second half,” Newman said, “and Williams made some that hurt us. Their big guy really rebounded well.”
The Tigers remembered where they were, though, representing their school at this event for the first time in 58 years.
“The guys had a blast. They don’t like to lose, but we loved being here.”
Princeton 68, Mahtomedi 63
Mahtomedi …….. 28 35 — 63
Princeton ………. 29 39 — 68
Mahtomedi — 27-77 FG (4-26 3FG), 5-10 FT, 49 rebounds, 11 turnovers, 15 fouls … Scoring: J’vonne Hadley 32 (16 reb, 5 ast, 3 stl), Zac Centers 15 (11 re (4 ast, 2 stl), Devin Melzer 4 (6 reb), Luke Ricker 4 (3 stl), Andrew Murphy 2
Princeton — 24-65 FG (7-26 3FG), 13-19 FT, 46 rebounds, 12 turnovers, 11 fouls … Scoring: James Flicek 16 (4 ast, 3 stl), Reilly O’Neil 15, Adam Williams 17 (7 ast, 5 reb, 4 stl), Jon Stimmler 12 (17 reb), Calvin Peterson 6, Haydn Stay 2