Immaculate Conception girls hoops defends county title, turns back University again
Controlling the tempo and leading for most of the game, the Immaculate Conception girls basketball team pulled away in the final minute and defeated University on Saturday afternoon for its second consecutive Essex County Tournament title.
The Lions, who have now made the ECT finals four straight times, did not have it easy in winning, 60-54, at Essex County Community College, as the Phoenix kept coming back or even taking a small lead.
The game was a rematch of last year’s ECT championship matchup, in which Immaculate downed University, 67-59.
Lions senior Tyonna Bailey made the most of her final county tournament game with a team-leading 26 points, 19 of which came in the second half.
"When I woke up this morning, I knew that we were going to win," Bailey said. "I was going to do all I could to win the game. I would have gone through a wall to win the game today."
While Bailey was cooking in the second half, it was sophomore forward Nila Giraud who was on fire in the first half. She contributed 18 points in the game, 16 of which came in the first half, and drained three, three-point buckets.
"It feels a lot better this year because last year I didn't start many games," Giraud said.
While Bailey seems assured of being named to the All New Jersey team this season, Immaculate head coach Jimmy Kreie was lobbying for his sophomore forward as well.
"She's an all-state player, and it showed today," Kreie said.
In the second half, every time University would make a run and cut into the Immaculate lead or even go ahead, Bailey and the rest of the Lions would reply.
University would grab a 40-38 lead with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
As it turns out, that would be its last.
Bailey would score six unanswered points to help the Lions regain the advantage, 44-40, with a minute left in the quarter.
University would continue to try to get past Immaculate in the remaining nine minutes. But each time the Lions responded.
With 21 seconds left in the final period, Bailey would drive in the paint right to the basket and get fouled. The senior would complete the three-point play with a free throw, and Immaculate all but locked up the championship trophy with a 57-52 lead.
In addition to Bailey’s and Giraud's scoring, junior Brenae Jones chipped in eight points and 11 rebounds.
Coming into the finals, Immaculate felt that it had the benefit of the larger gym at Essex Community College. "Our athletes want to open up and run the floor," Kreie said. "Everybody thinks that our small gym at home benefits us, but it doesn't."
In the three games against University this year, the lone loss by the Lions came at home, 68-62, on Jan. 19. In that match the Immaculate defense gave up 37 points in the second half. But in the county finals, the Lions defense allowed only 26 points by the Phoenix in the second half.
Adding to University’s problems, guard Morgan Marshall, the Phoenix's top scorer, committed her fourth foul only three minutes into the second half. Marshall would finish with only eight points.
Immaculate defeated University, 58-34, on Dec. 20 on the road in a Super Essex Conference American Division contest. The Lions shared the SEC American Division title with University.
With another ECT title in its pocket, Immaculate will next try to bring home a Non-Public North B state sectional championship.
The Lions are the fourth seed in the section and host fifth-seeded Gill St. Bernard's on Friday (time TBA) in the quarterfinals.
A victory over Gill St. Bernard's would most likely send Immaculate up against top-seeded Saddle River Day on Feb. 27 in the semifinals.
Last season the Lions lost, 65-59, to Morris Catholic in the Non-Public North B semifinals.