Youreneff makes himself known

MHS junior helps boys’ basketball top PHS

By: Bob Nuse
   BASKING RIDGE — A quick glance at his scoring totals tells you that Pat Youreneff is feeling a lot more comfortable on the court for the Montgomery High boys’ basketball team.
   A junior guard, Youreneff has scored 42 points in the Cougars’ first three games. This comes in his first year as a starter after coming off the bench a year ago and averaging just over one point a game in 20 games.
   On Saturday night, Youreneff scored a team-high 17 points to lead Montgomery to its third straight win, 66-49, over Princeton in the opening round of the Len Sepanak Memorial Tournament at Ridge High School. With the win, Montgomery advanced to Monday night’s semifinal against Watchung Hills. A win Monday night would put the Cougars into tonight’s championship game against Rutgers Prep.
   The loss dropped Princeton to 1-2 on the season and into a consolation game against Ridge, which was scheduled to be played on Monday night.
   In Saturday’s win over Princeton, Montgomery broke open a close game with a 14-2 run that turned a 13-7 lead into a 27-9 advantage just before halftime. The lead grew to as large as 41-12 midway through the third quarter before Princeton went on a run of its own.
   Youreneff led a balanced Cougar scoring attack with 17 points. Alex Willis had 16, while Mike Bunn scored 12 and Chris Minck added 10. Princeton received 11 points apiece from Kareem Blue and Chris Newton in the loss.
   Youreneff made a difference with his outside shooting touch, helping ease the loss of the Cougars’ top two scorers from a year ago.
   "I feel a lot more comfortable this year," said Youreneff, who connected on three three-point field goals in the game. "I played all summer and I think that helped a lot. We went to team camp and I thought we grew a lot as a team. We lost a couple of real good players when Adam (Hyncik) and Justin (Freid) graduated. It’s hard to fill in what we lost with those guys, especially with rebounding. But Alex Willis and Spiro (Gikas) and Chris Minck have all done a good job."
   Youreneff is a player who has also done a good job for the Cougars. His scoring may come as a surprise to Montgomery’s opponents, who didn’t see much of him a year ago. But with his play in the first three games, he won’t be a surprise for much longer.
   "Last year, I don’t know if anyone knew who I was," Youreneff said. "I don’t know if they know who I am this year either, but I just try to come in and play my game. We’ve got a lot of different guys who can score on this team. And Ryan Jenkins is the best passing point guard you could possibly play with. He’s a selfless player and he gets the ball to guys where they’re in a position to score."
   Montgomery scored quite a bit early against Princeton, jumping out to a 15-7 lead by the end of the first quarter and 33-12 by halftime. The Cougars were able to force 14 turnovers by the Little Tigers, while turning the ball over just once themselves. Montgomery got sloppy in the second half when Princeton turned up the pressure on defense, turning the ball over 10 times and allowing the Little Tigers to get as close as 17 points after trailing by 29.
   "In the first half we did everything we wanted to do," Montgomery coach Jeff Tagliareni said. "We handled their pressure well, we kept them off the glass and we moved the ball on offense. Then in the second half we didn’t do the things that made us successful in the first half. We didn’t handle their pressure very well and we forced some wild shots.
   "We’ve had that problem this season where we’ve gotten up on a team and then when they get aggressive on defense we have some problems and let them get back in the game."
   But in the end, the Cougars balance on offense was enough to earn a third straight win, with Youreneff leading the way in scoring.
   "I’m doing my best," Youreneff said. "It’s hard to fill the shoes of someone like Adam Hyncik. I just go out and try to do what I can to help the team as much as I can. A lot of us have been playing together for a long time. This is a tight team. We all get along well together and everyone likes each other."
   So far, that has shown through quite nicely on the court for the Cougars.