Newark East Side’s heavy pressure forces center/forward Elijah Hutchins-Everett to fight for space on the floor and find an outlet to pass to during the Lions’ 82-77 loss to the Red Raiders.

by Andrew Garda

NEWARK — Bad habits are tough to break, and even the best teams can struggle to shake them.

So in some ways, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Immaculate Catholic’s boys basketball team stumble in an 82-77 loss against a talented Newark East Side team.

Even coming off a very successful five-win stretch, which included a victory over Top 20-ranked Ranney on New Year’s Day and two triumphs against highly rated out-of-state high schools, the Lions aren’t immune to a backslide.

If the Lions have had one Achilles’ heel this season, it has been allowing big runs by their opponents in the second half. This time out it was a third quarter in which the Red Raiders outscored them 31-12, including a 14-6 run over the first four minutes of the period.

“Turning point of the game was, we got picked clean at half-court,” coach Jimmy Salmon said after the game. “They went on to score 8 straight points. Once that happened, they got into pressure and we got rattled. I don’t think we ever recovered from that.”

Before that moment, Salmon said, the Lions had the game going pretty much according to plan.

“Up to that point I felt like we were controlling the tempo of the game,” he said, “we’re throwing it inside and they couldn’t guard us.”

The Red Raiders also hit several key 3-pointers in that same period, creating a distance between the two teams that ended up being insurmountable.

“They got a bunch of layups early, then started kicking out passes for threes, which they made,” Salmon said. “Boom, that was the end of the game.”

IC got back in the win column two days later in a 70-68 squeaker against Trenton Catholic, this time struggling to hold onto an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Senior Jalen Carey fights his way up and over several Newark East Side defenders during their Friday, January 5 game. The Lions would fall to the Red Raiders 82-77 despite Carey’s team-high 25 points.

The Lions had built up a lot of momentum, but even after the win against Trenton Catholic, that was no longer the case.

“Whatever we did have is gone, dead, buried,” Salmon said. “Now we’ve got to figure out a way to get going again, and if I did get paid the big bucks I’d say that’s what I get paid the big bucks for. It’s back to the drawing board.”

There’s very little room for error or time to work that drawing board either.

The Lions faced Columbia on the road on Tuesday, coming away with a solid 68-52 win and now heads to Newark again to face Barringer Thursday night. Then at home on Sunday, they have Findlay Prep, which hails from Massachusetts and is one of the Top 25 teams in the country.

After that, it’s back to work in the American Division next week against West Side and Seton Hall Prep.

With a schedule as tough as IC’s, even a little backslide can cost a team but Salmon feels that schedule is key to this team’s success.

“It’s what I like,” he said. “I don’t want games that you know going into it, you’re going to win by 15 or better. I’ve never liked those kinds of games. I’d rather have 25 wars. I think then you’ll find out who you are as a team and that better prepares you for county and state tournaments. So, by design, this schedule is tough.”

Salmon isn’t bothered by scheduling hiccups either. Friday’s game was supposed to be a home game, but took place on East Side’s home court instead because of the weather and a few other factors.

“We could have said no, we don’t have to play today,” Salmon said. “We didn’t have school. But I didn’t want to do that. I like the fire. I don’t want to be anywhere else except in the fire.”

Salmon also insisted that relocating the game didn’t affect what happened on the court for his team.

“I felt we had control of the game,” he said, “and I thought that if we could have maintained what we were doing, we would have won the game.”