In order to pull out close games, every basketball team needs a point guard with good hands and the ability to make clutch free throws down the stretch.
Fortunately for the boys basketball team, they have Qwanza Harper, a point guard seemingly born to play the position.
"We got the ball in the right hands at the end," noted Hightstown's long-time coach Don Hess. "Qwanza's a good kid. His father (Mike) also played for me. His father was a point guard just like him. He was also a good player."
Qwanza's performance in the season opener has to rank among the top in the Harper family history. He scored 26 points and added four assists and two steals as Hightstown defeated at home, 73-63, on Friday night.
Harper made a particularly big impact at the free throw line, making 10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
"It's the opener, so you have to work the butterflies out," he said. "I was nervous, but I shoot on that basket in practice all the time."
After the first three quarters, Hightstown didn't appear to be in the need of any clutch performances down the stretch. The team was playing tough defense and it had a 53-41 lead.
"We lost it for a little bit," Harper said. "We got lulled to sleep."
The lead was still a commanding 58-48 with 5:48 to play. However, Princeton isn't exactly the ideal team to try and run out the clock against.
"Some teams you can kill the ball against because they can't keep up with you speed-wise," Hess said. "Princeton can run. You have to keep attacking."
That became more and more obvious as Princeton steadily chipped away at the lead. Scott Bechler's basket with 1:52 to play pulled Princeton to within 60-58. Then, 32 seconds later, Matt Hoffman missed a three-pointer that would have given Princeton the lead.
In order to get more chances on offense, Princeton either needed a turnover or to put Hightstown on the free throw line. One way or another, the game was going to come down to how Harper reacted to the pressure.
Harper responded by making 10 out of 12 free throws, never allowing Princeton another opening to try and tie the game or take the lead.
"It was a good game," Hess said. "We made some mistakes, but I'll take that for an opener. It was a good team game. We were looking for each other out there."
The Hightstown players were also thinking about each other after the game. When asked the turning point of the contest, Harper ignored his free throws and pointed out how Sam Lopez (19 points, nine rebounds and two steals) was a dominating presence in the post.
Fitting for a point guard. You learn to share the ball. You learn to share the credit. Not an easy job, but it does help when you are born to play the position.