SHARONVILLE, Ohio — The battle for the top spot in the Greater Miami Conference looks like it will come down to the wire and lurking in the shadows of that top spot is Princeton. The Vikings are hoping to make a late surge to win the conference but standing in their way on Friday night was Lakota West — a team that got the best of them in the first meeting earlier this year.
Back on that December 10th night , Princeton got a nice boost from senior guard Kahlil Davis (Cumberland’s commit) and junior guard Kelvin Turner despite the loss. The two combined for 34 of the teams 76 points. On the other hand, the Firebirds got a big 15 points off of the bench from junior guard Oscean Anuforo in the win. However, all three of those guys were not available on Friday. Furthermore, the Vikings also didn’t have another key backcourt piece in junior guard Greg Johnson.
Princeton was able to get out to a hot start against Lakota West in this GMC clash nonetheless. The Vikings quickly put together a 22 point quarter thanks to the contributions of DeAirius Barker, Sterling Berkhalter, Bowen Hardman, and Jaheim Thomas. It was just the fifth time all year that Princeton was able to reach at least 20 points in the opening quarter and they are undefeated when doing so. Because of the productive period led by Berkhalter’s six points, the Vikings were able to combat a impressive 11 point start for Firebirds senior guard Carter Combs and led after the first by a score of 22-19.
In the second frame, Lakota West senior guard Julian Mackey was able to get going with 7 points in the period. The leading scorer in the Greater Miami Conference pushed his total to 11 points at the break. However, it was Bowen Hardman’s 12 point explosion in the stanza that ultimately resulted in the Vikings distancing themselves from the Firebirds as they entered the locker room with a 46-36 advantage.
Mackey was able to carry the confidence he built in the first half into the second half as the senior dropped 10 points in third quarter. Unfortunately for Lakota West and Head Coach Jim Leon, that was also when Princeton senior forward Sterling Berkhalter put together his best frame of the night with 8 points of his own. The timely period for Berkhalter combined with Barker pitching in some buckets of his own allowed the Vikings to maintain their 10 point cushion over the Firebirds as they held a 68-58 edge entering the fourth.
In the final eight minutes, Lakota West was able to inch a bit closer to Princeton. The usual suspects of Combs and Mackey had something to do with that happening. However, it was freshman forward Nathan Dudukovich who really led the charge for the Firebirds as he scored all seven of his points in the period including a big three late in the contest to keep their chances alive. In the end though, the Vikings and their senior leader DeAirius Barker was able to slam the door shut and keep their chances in the GMC alive as they downed Lakota West by a final of 82-77.
Princeton got season highs in points from three of their guys in the victory while another tied his season high. Barker put his skills on display as he finished with 23 points while adding five rebounds and six assists. Hardman also concluded the contest with 21 points and shot 8-15 on the night while burying three of his six attempts from distance. Berkhalter, who had a few above the rim finishes, saw his very first 20 point game in his varsity career. Lastly, while not reaching double figures, senior big Jaheim Thomas deserves recognition as he nearly reached a double-double. The 6-foot-4 football standout and Cincinnati signee ended with nine points and nine rebounds.
For the Firebirds, they were led by Julian Mackey and Carter Combs. The two combined for 48 points in the loss. Sophomore forward Alex Afari was also tremendous on the glass in defeat as he pulled down 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and added six points.
Looking ahead, Princeton will see their next action on Tuesday as they hit the road to face Mason. The Vikings comfortably handled the Comets in their first meeting and hope to do the same in just a few days. As for Lakota West, they will look to bounce back in front of their home crowd on Tuesday as they square off against Fairfield — a team they also beat earlier this season.