By EDWARD KENSIK
kensik@montclairlocal.news

The Immaculate Conception boys basketball team’s season came to a crashing halt last week, as it could not keep up with powerhouse Gill St. Bernard’s in the Non-Public North B state quarterfinals.

The Lions fell 80-59 to the Knights on March 4 on the road in Gladstone. Immaculate ended its season with a 14-11 mark.

Lions junior Tavian Pullock led his team with 22 points against a Gill St. Bernard’s squad that was stacked with NCAA Division I prospects.

Though they were defeated by the Knights, Immaculate won the battle of non-publics in Montclair, turning back Montclair Kimberley Academy on March 2 in the first round of the state tournament.

In that game the Lions started fast, but the contest turned into more of a nail-biter, as the Cougars slashed a 20-point deficit in half at the start of the fourth quarter.

In the end, sixth-seeded Immaculate would rule the evening, winning 90-62 over 11th-seeded MKA. The Cougars finished the season at 10-10.

The Lions’ top-scoring duo of Pullock and senior Justin Price were the difference in the game. Pullock led the Immaculate scorers with 27, and Price was right behind with 24.

On the Montclair Kimberley side, season top scorer Brennan Columbia-Walsh, a senior, was kept relatively in check with 15 points. It was junior Marley Stewart who commandeered the comeback with a game-high 30 points, 18 of which came in the third quarter as part of the Cougars’ rally.

Immaculate Conception head coach Jimmy Salmon was happy to get the win, especially on Senior Night at their gym, but knows his team needs to put a complete game together if it wants to get to the sectional finals. 

“We need to get that extra basket,” said Salmon, who believed his team was close to putting away MKA early in the game but instead sweated it out in the fourth quarter. 

He added that has been a trend for the team. “That’s been the story this year,” the coach said. “I think when we focus for 32 minutes, we are a tough out.”

Pullock, like Salmon, admitted there are pauses in the team’s play. “We do take some plays off, and they were getting wide-open threes," he said about MKA, which drained nine threes in the contest.

Montclair Kimberley head coach Tony Jones said that it was pretty much a tale of two halves before Immaculate scored 20 points in the last three minutes.

“I thought we were tight in the first half and struggled to adjust to their quickness,” he said. “In the second half, we were more aggressive on both ends of the floor.”

Jones added that his team improved on defense as the game went along. “Until the end, we did a better job challenging shots,” he said. “Offensively we were more patient and attacked the rim.”

The Lions came out strong and took a 21-9 lead after the first quarter. “The first quarter we came out hard and attacking,” Pullock said. Price added about what was working early: “We did a lot of motion and wanted to speed up the pace.” 

But Montclair Kimberley would just hang around. 

The result was that the Cougars, who were trailing at one point by 20 points, sliced the lead to 10 with seven minutes remaining in the game.

It was the Cougars’ Isaac Wise who made the three-point bucket that cut the Immaculate lead to 62-52. It was Wise’s lone basket.

Around that time, Salmon called a timeout. “He got our minds right and to settle down,” Price said. “And make smart plays and smart decisions.”

Immaculate would not let the Cougars have any part of an upset; Pullock and Price responded nicely. “My job was to expand the lead as much as I could and as quickly as we could,” Pullock said.

The breaking point came with about three minutes remaining in the game, when Columbia-Walsh fouled out and the Cougars were called for a technical foul. Price made a rare five-point play with a bucket and three free throws.

The Lions’ lead went from 14 points to 21, 77-56, and the game was finally a fait accompli.