Gallery by Greg Barnett
Princeton – Not much is made of early-season matchups though each sectional matchup between Class AAAA Region 3, Section 2 foes carries importance with the overall sectional record determining postseason seeding.
Heading into Christmas, Greenbrier East will have a leg up on its sectional foes.
Senior Goose Gabbert erupted for 28 points, 21 in the second half, as the Spartans picked up a 74-69 road victory over Princeton, handing the Tigers their first loss of the season.
The win improves the Spartans 2-0 in sectional play with wins over Princeton and now Beckley while Princeton drops to 1-1 with a win against Oak Hill last week.
Making the 90-minute trek to Mercer County the Spartans (4-1) seemed at home all night, shooting 58 percent from the field while the Tigers (5-1) only connected on 38 percent of their shots including a paltry 27 percent clip on 26 3-point attempts.
The poor shooting percentages combined with early runs in the second and fourth quarters doomed the hosts.
“Offensively we didn’t move well,” Princeton head coach Robb Williams said. “They didn’t do anything special on defense and that’s not a knock on them, they played man to man kind of like we did the second half. I don’t know if the guys were a little excited. They’re fast and maybe sped us up a little bit but we didn’t take smart shots. We were falling away a couple times and really hesitant which is really odd because we shot well every game. They’re the No. 8 team for a reason, It was disappointing but not the effort. We had plenty of opportunities but I was disappointed we’d make a silly mistake but that shooting makes for a long night.”
After the hosts raced out to a 5-0 lead the Spartans countered with a 6-0 run, with the game knotted at 12 after a quarter. The visitors found life with Adam Seams running the offense. The senior scored three points in the opening quarter but dished three assists and six in the first half, breaking down the Tiger defense to create easy looks for his teammates. It led to a 67 percent shooting percentage on 15 attempts inside the arc in the first half for the visitors.
“We played man and (Seams) is tough to handle,” Williams said. “He’s got a nice long crossover. It’s low but it’s long and it pushes you to the side and he’ll crossover quick … He makes it go. I think the game they lost he had three points or something. I don’t think he played as well as he did tonight but we worked on him and he performed very well.”
The Spartans also proved opportunistic, creating separation at the beginning of quarters.
Tied after the first, Bryson Brammer nailed a 3-pointer and Jude Libby connected on a layup that gave East the lead for good. Dominick Collins cut the deficit with a 3 at 17-15 but Brammer and Libby replicated their success, reversing the sequence to put East up 22-15.
The story was the same at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth.
The Tigers rallied to make it a 44-42 game late in the third after a Koen Sartin layup but a pair of free throws and layup from Seams made it a 48-42 game after three. Gabe Patton grabbed a shovel to help bury the hosts, opening the fourth with a 3 before Gabbert added two more of his 14 second-half free throws to push the lead to 11.
“We talk about winning every quarter and we talk about starting the quarter well,” East head coach Jared Patton said. “Let’s execute something or get something whether it’s a wide-open look or something going to the basket. We practice that stuff all the time because we know how pivotal it can be if you don’t start each quarter good.”
Attacking the basket worked well for Gabbert in particular. A known sharpshooter, the senior was 4 of 8 inside the paint but connected on all 14 of his free throw attempts.
“I just saw a few go in the rim,” Gabbert said. “I went off in the second half Friday (against Beckley) and I just had the confidence to keep shooting.”
Princeton trimmed the deficit to six with a minute to go after a Chase Hancock 3 but Gabbert and Seams combined to nail all six of their free throw attempts, salting the game.
“I watched them play against a couple teams and was like ‘Holy cow, these boys are hot,'” Patton said. “They’re averaging over 25 forced turnovers a game and we knew we had to take care of the ball today and we had to execute. Every single possession was crucial. Fourteen turnovers is still a little high but they didn’t reach their 25 and that’s what we were really focused on. They’re a really good team and coach Williams does a great job. They’re going to be a tough out down the stretch. I know a lot of these kids and we played against them for years so they’ll bounce back.”
Gabbert’s 28 points led all scorers while teams added 16. Davon Edwards and Chase Hancock led Princeton with 17 points each.
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GE: 12 19 17 26 – 74
P: 12 12 18 27 – 69
Adam Seams 16, Goose Gabbert 28, Gabe Patton 7, Kaiden Huffman 5, Jude Libby 6, Bryson Brammer 12
Nic Flemming 6, Gavin Stover 1, Davon Edwards 17, Dom Collins 5, Chase Hancock 17, Kris Joyce 11, Koen Sartin 10, Grant Cochran 2
3-point goals – GE: 5 (Gabbert 2, Patton 1, Bryson Bammer 2) P: 7 (Edwards 4, Collins 1, Hancock 1, Joyce 1)