Princeton girls take Classic title
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 22, 2012 11:18 PM
PRINCETON -- Princeton showed tremendous respect for Cleveland's taller post players throughout the night, but finally decided enough is enough.
The Bulldogs attacked.
And attacked some more.
The strategy created foul trouble for the Rams and scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs, who emerged victorious 37-34 and captured the 2012 Bulldog Christmas Classic championship.
That bridesmaid feeling each of the past two seasons had finally been wiped away.
"Two years in a row, we've finished runner-up in our tournament and to be able to win it this year means a lot to these kids," Princeton head coach Marty Gurganus said. "We're excited and grateful, and Cleveland is a good team. We're happy to be able to pull it out at the end."
Classic MVP Charley Cox patiently directed an offense that struggled to convert shots in the opening half. Princeton hit just four field goals in 21 attempts, but managed to stay within striking distance -- 18-13 -- after 16 minutes of play.
The Rams stretched their advantage to 25-15 early in the third period, only to see the Bulldogs shave the deficit to 28-21.
"We didn't give up," Cox said. "Usually, we would have just died, but he (coach Gurganus) just drilled in our head to keep their post players out of it (the game). We finally shut them down and got them in foul trouble."
Especially in the final two minutes.
Down 33-26 with less than two minutes to go, Gurganus burned a timeout and told his team in the huddle to start attacking the basket.
"We told the girls that shots weren't falling, so go to the basket and maybe we'll draw a foul (and) go to the free throw line because we had shot free throws well up to this point," Gurganus said.
Cleveland post players Courtney Ireland and Cheyenne Wall struggled to get rebounding position and each drew critical over-the-back fouls. Wall eventually fouled out, while Ireland played with four fouls.
The Bulldogs pulled to within 33-31 on Savannah Massengill's old-fashioned three-point play. After a flurry of action on both ends of the court, Hailey Wood drew a foul underneath on an offensive rebound and converted the back end of a two-shot foul.
Cleveland misfired on its next possession, but got the ball back on a turnover. However, the Rams couldn't score and Massengill buried a baseline jumper to give Princeton its first lead, 34-33, with about half a minute to play.
"That fourth quarter was a struggle," Cox said. "We kept driving, getting the fouls and made our free throws, which helped turn the game around."
The Rams' Courtney Ireland, who earned an all-tournament team nod, tied the game at 34-34 with a free throw. Wood's offensive putback and Jaclyn Farrior's free throw pushed the Bulldogs in front, 37-34, with 8.5 seconds to go. Farrior drew all-tournament recognition.
"Jackie has been so consistent this whole year, is so intelligent and seems to slip into the right place when we needed it and tonight she did that for us," a smiling Gurganus said.
Princeton shot 8 of 12 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter and 17 of 27 for the game. Massengill and Wood led the Bulldogs with 14 and seven points, respectively.