There is nothing like waiting until the last game of the boys’
basketball regular season for a blockbuster like Middletown playing at Princeton. The stage has been set for a few weeks as the Vikings and Middies – rated Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in Cincinnati
– will play for the Greater Miami Conference title. The sold-out game will be televised live.
There is nothing like waiting until the last game of the boys’ basketball regular season for a blockbuster like Middletown playing at Cincinnati Princeton Saturday night.
The stage has been set for a few weeks as Princeton (17-1, 12-0) and Middletown (17-1, 12-0) – rated Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in Cincinnati – will play for the Greater Miami Conference championship starting at 6 p.m. Saturday. The sold-out game will also be televised live locally by Fox19.
Princeton athletic director Scott Kaufman helped organize the television aspect after the game was postponed due to heavy snow in late January. As with any rare live TV event, he said there is plenty of buzz around the school for Saturday’s game, but the Vikings have kept it in perspective.
“I’ve got to be honest…our focus is bigger than Saturday,” Kaufman said. “The goals for the season don’t stop on Saturday.”
Princeton, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Division I state poll, has the talent and intangibles to make a deep run into the postseason tournament when it starts next week.
But, the same could be said for Middletown, which has the reigning GMC player of the year in senior forward Bill Edwards and standout guard Allen Roberts (Miami University).
Edwards averages 17 points and nine rebounds and nearly five assists, while Roberts averages 15 points, four rebounds and three assists. Senior forward Tony Peters averages 11.2 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Edwards, who is still undecided in his college selection, recently joined the 1,000-point club – becoming just the eighth player in school history to reach that feat.
“Bill joined the 1,000-point club at Ohio’s all-time winningest basketball school, which speaks so highly for the work that he has put in over the last four years,” Middletown coach Bob Ronai said.
Middletown’s only loss came to Vance (N.C.) 82-74 on Dec. 30. The Middies have rarely been challenged since and have won by double digits 10 of the past 11 games.
Ronai was well aware of the magnitude the Princeton showdown presented when the game was scheduled in late January.
“We’d be kidding ourselves if we say we didn’t have this marked on our calendars,” Ronai told the Cincinnati Enquirer last month. “There’s been so much hype on this game, really since last spring.”
Princeton coach Josh Andrews said he is aware of the stakes Saturday night and said his team is prepared for the game which he called a “great test of character.”
The Vikings are led by senior forward Marquis Horne (Ohio University) and Orlando Williams (Miami University) along with junior guard Jordan Sibert, who has orally committed to Ohio State.
Horne (lower leg) was injured during Monday’s practice, but hopes to return for this weekend as Princeton plays host Hamilton Friday night. Horne, who is 6 feet 7 inches, averages 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Williams and Sibert are the Vikings’ top two leading scorers at 18.3 points per game and 14.4 points per game, respectively. Senior forward Stefon Johnson averages 9.0 points and 5.2 rebounds. Each has played a significant role on both ends of the floor.
“When the game really matters the guys are extremely unselfish,” Andrews said. “They find the right guy with the hot hand and they guard with great passion. They never backed down from anything.”
The Vikings have won 12 consecutive games since it lost to North Lawndale Chicago 53-47 Dec. 29. This weekend will mark the second time Princeton has played on live TV this season – the Vikings defeated Christ School (N.C.) 64-60 in a Kentucky tournament in late January.
The Vikings’ success is no surprise to Cincinnati basketball observers. In fact, the late head coach Bill Brewer had forecasted this group would be something special. Princeton has not made a state basketball appearance since 1972.
Last year, Princeton made a regional appearance and finished 18-6 in 2008 after an emotional opening to the season. Brewer died of a sudden heart attack in November 2007 and left players and the Princeton athletics staff in shock before the season.
Andrews, a 25-year-old top assistant, was named the interim head coach and quickly impressed with his calm demeanor and approach. Andrews had received solid help as a player at Hamilton under Larry Allen and with working for Brewer.
“The best way to describe Josh is that he is wise beyond his years,” Kaufman said. “It’s something I have never seen before. His goals are set and he created a plan and has stuck to it.”
Kaufman said Andrews is more confident this season and it helps with the veteran group of players competing for him.
“(Josh) is a flat-out student of the game,” Kaufman said. “He does not have an ego.”
The humility is also consistent with the Princeton players. Several paid tribute to their late coach during the postseason last year and have matured on and off the floor this season. Kaufman said their character is evident anytime.
“They are great basketball players but even better young men,” Kaufman said. “They are always smiling, friendly and willing to do whatever it takes to help.”
Andrews said he’s learned on the job and admits he never asked for the head coaching position initially, but has been given significant assistance over the past 15 months. This year’s Vikings want to leave a “legacy” and Andrews said he wants to guide his team in the most direct way.
“I want to put these guys in a spot where they can succeed,” Andrews said. “I want to give them my very best. I refuse to short-change them.”