North’s big stretches top PDS

Knights have winning effort

By: Bob Nuse
   Mike Jackson has seen the signs that his West Windsor-Plainsboro North boys’ basketball team could be the kind of team it was for just over an eight minute stretch on Saturday.
   Matt Levinson has seen enough good signs from his Princeton Day School basketball team over the last few games to feel good about his team’s future.
   The two teams met Saturday and each coach got a glimpse of what could be for his program.
   After PDS got off to a great start and took a 21-8 lead midway through the second quarter, the Knights kicked into gear and closed the first half with a 20-4 run to take a 28-25 lead. And they didn’t let up when the second half started, scoring the first 13 points of the half to build a 41-25 lead.
   PDS would get as close as six points late in the fourth quarter, but the Knights held on for a 66-55 win, their second in the last three games.
   "I am impressing on my guys the importance of winning efforts," said Jackson, whose team improved to 5-13 with the win. "It’s not that winning and losing isn’t vitally important, it truly is. But winning efforts are what you build the future with. There are a lot of young players in the program right now watching the way we handle ourselves at the varsity level. They are seeing growth and these guys are setting a good example."
   The Knights had lost five straight games before snapping that streak with a win over Allentown. After a narrow loss to Lawrence on Friday, they bounced back with the win over the Panthers on Saturday.
   "It’s all a part of our growing and maturing process, which hasn’t been a real consistent one this year," Jackson said. "We’ve made progress. We’ve made regressions. I think that’s the natural way of maturing. You’re going to go forward and you are going to take steps back. It’s frustrating. But we’re not giving up. My kids are playing hard day in and day out.
   "It seems like one player a day picks a day to come out without their ‘A’ game. Luckily, we have enough other guys to be able to pick it up. Alex Crawford picked up the slack tonight. He had a rough game last night, even though he scored 18 points. He came out today and showed a lot of growth and a great attitude."
   In a balanced offensive effort against PDS, Evan Mitos led the scoring with 24 points, including an incredible stretch in the third quarter when he scored 15 points.
   "Mitos is a quiet kid," Jackson said. "But he’s a sniper. He’s one of those still waters run deep kind of guys. I call him my farm boy. He’s like an Indiana Hoosier. He’s quiet and doesn’t say a word. But he has great fundamentals and a great sense of the game."
   Down 21-8, Kevin Maselli got the Knights started with a pair of baskets. Crawford then scored a basket before Joe Moore hit back-to-back three-point shots to cut the lead to 23-20. Mitos scored five of the final eight points of the half, then the first eight of the second half.
   Mitos and Moore combined for 20 of the Knights’ 22 points in the third quarter to open up a 14-point lead.
   "We’ve matured over the year," said Moore, a senior who averaging just under five points a game. "We graduated almost our whole team from last year and we have a lot of sophomores who are playing this year. The last couple weeks our practices have increased in intensity. The leadership of the team has really stepped up. Guys like Jerome Leslie have been great leaders.
   "Every game we have a new group of five guys that seem to play real well together for a five-minute stretch. I think we can finish out winning the rest of our games, the county tournament included. We’re playing with a lot of confidence now."
   For a team that could have packed in the season after five straight losses dropped their record to 3-12, the Knights have instead bounced back with some strong play under the senior leadership of players like Moore.
   "Joe is a quality kid," Jackson said. "He’s got quality parents. His brother is my JV coach and varsity assistant. So he has a lot of support around him and it really shows in the way he plays and conducts himself on and off the court."
   And he’s hoping over the final two weeks, the Knights’ play on the court produces a few more wins.
   "When all of the planets are aligned, we can truly play with anyone," Jackson said. "We outscored Trenton in the second half the other night."