By EDWARD KENSIK
kensik@montclairlocal.news

At least one Montclair high school basketball team will advance this week as the 2021-22 state basketball tournament tips off.

Montclair Kimberley’s boys team is the 11th seed in the Non-Public North B section and does not have to travel far in the playoffs, as MKA visits Immaculate Conception, which is the sixth seed, on Wednesday, March 2, at 5:30 p.m. The winner will travel to third-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s in the sectional quarterfinals on Friday, March 4, at 7 p.m.

In addition to the two non-public boys teams, both non-public girls basketball teams are  in the state playoffs this week.

Immaculate Conception, fresh off winning the Essex County Tournament title, is the third seed in Non-Public North B and will host sixth-seeded Roselle Catholic on Friday, March 4. A Lions win will send them to the sectional semifinals against the winner of seventh-seeded Villa Walsh versus second-seeded Morris Catholic on Monday, March 7.

The Montclair Kimberley girls team moves into the larger Non-Public North A section and is the 10th seed. The Cougars travel to seventh-seeded Morristown Beard on Wednesday, March 2, at 5 p.m. If MKA pulls the upset, it would travel to Essex County rival Newark Academy, which is the second seed, on Friday, March 4.

Boys basketball

Non-Public North B
Eleventh-seeded Montclair Kimberley (10-9) at sixth-seeded Immaculate Conception (13-10), Wednesday, March 2, 5:30 p.m.

It’s been a long time since these two teams have seen each other.

The last time they met in boys basketball was in 2011, when they faced each other twice. MKA won both times, 69-54 and 92-65.

While this season the records of the two teams are similar, Immaculate Conception at 13-10 and MKA at 10-9, the Lions have had a tougher schedule and in turn got the better seed. Immaculate Conception has played five games against the two teams that made it to the Essex County Tournament final (Seton Hall Prep and Newark Central), with one win, a 59-47 victory at Newark Central on Jan. 11.

Offensively, Immaculate Conception is led by junior Tavian Pullock and senior Justin Price.

For MKA head coach Tony Jones, Pullock is a big concern. “Pullock spearheads their offense,” Jones said. “His ability to score on three levels makes it tough on any defense.”

Montclair Kimberley’s offense revolves around senior forward Brennan Columbia-Walsh, who surpassed a thousand points in his career in an overtime loss to Pingry, 59-57, at home on Feb. 26. The other top offensive player for the Cougars, who like Columbia-Walsh scores in double figures, is junior Marley Stewart.

“Offensively we need to take advantage when opportunities present themselves and attack,” Jones said. “Playing with purpose and confidence is key. Our goal is to get to the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win.”

For Immaculate head coach Jimmy Salmon, the contest against MKA will come down to whether his team can play consistently, as it has had roller-coaster results this season.

“With us it depends on what team shows up,” Salmon said. “We can play with the best of them, and then there are games where we don’t play our best. It depends on who shows up.”

The Lions have a balanced offensive lineup, with Pullock, Price and Angel Rodriguez all able to score in double digits, as they did in a 62-61 win over Pope John on Feb. 28.

For the Lions the key to defeating MKA and going on a long run in Non-Public North B might be point guard Samaj Long. Salmon said that the freshman has been getting more playing time as the season has progressed.

Girls basketball

Non-Public North B quarterfinal
Sixth-seed Roselle Catholic (13-11) at third-seeded Immaculate Conception (19-4), Friday, March 4, 7 p.m.

Immaculate Conception has been building for tournament time all season, having pumped up its schedule to include five out-of-state games.

Entering the contest against Roselle Catholic, the Lions had won 10 straight contests, including a 67-59 win over University to take the Essex County Tournament crown on Feb. 19.

For Immaculate head coach Jimmy Kreie it comes down to the basics. “The key for the rest of the season is knowing our opponent and playing our game,” Kreie said. 

The Lions are ready and prepped for a long run in the playoffs. Not only have they played a tough schedule, they have also played at big venues on the road in comparison to the quaint confines of the Immaculate gym. “We played on a lot of bigger courts, so we understand the geometry of the larger court,” Kreie said. 

Immaculate is bolstered by its height advantage against many teams with the likes of sophomore Tayla Thomas. The Lions also have speed down the floor. “We’re big and athletic, so we secure the rebounds and push the ball up the floor,” the coach said.

Moving the ball up and down the floor have been senior Tiara Bellamy, junior Ore Ogunwolere and junior Tyonna Bailey.

Roselle Catholic is coming in after winning three of its last four games. It’s a young team, with many of its contributors freshmen and sophomores. A freshman, Jasmin McKay, is their leading scorer; a sophomore, Tori Archer, is their top rebounder.

Montclair Kimberley girls basketball head coach Isabella Mendez talks to her team, including Patricia Columbia-Walsh (10), during a timeout in a recent game. The 10th-seeded Cougars travel to seventh-seeded Morristown-Beard on Wednesday, March 2, in the first round of the Non-Public North A state sectional playoffs. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair Kimberley girls basketball head coach Isabella Mendez talks to her team, including Patricia Columbia-Walsh (10), during a timeout in a recent game. The 10th-seeded Cougars travel to seventh-seeded Morristown-Beard on Wednesday, March 2, in the first round of the Non-Public North A state sectional playoffs. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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Non-Public North A
Tenth-seeded Montclair Kimberley (13-7) at seventh-seeded Morristown Beard (12-12), Wednesday, March 2, 5 p.m.

Montclair Kimberley is familiar this season with Morristown Beard, as the squads faced each other on Feb. 6.

In that game in Montclair, Morristown Beard won in a close contest, 51-47.

Cougars head coach Isabella Mendez would definitely like to get out to a faster start this time around.

Montclair Kimberley found itself down 15-8 after the first quarter and was battling a headwind the rest of the way.

 Mendez pointed out what her team needs to do to beat the Crimson in the rematch. 

“If we are disciplined on defense, do not telegraph our passes when Mo Beard sets up in their 1-3-1 zone and drive to the basket strong, we will come out on top this time around,” she said.

In the Feb. 6 game senior Ayantu Flowers led MKA with 13 points. “We’ve done a lot of preparation for this tournament, and we’re ready to perform,” Flowers said.

One player who would like to produce more this go-round is another senior, Patricia Columbia-Walsh, who only had three points in the first game.

“Having already played Morristown Beard we know what we need to work on,” Columbia-Walsh said. “We also really want to capitalize on our last opportunity to advance through a tournament and prove the strength of our program.”

The MKA defense will have to stop Morristown-Beard’s Sylar Reale, the team’s leading scorer, who had a game-high 20 points in the first game against the Cougars.