by Andrew Garda

Zion Bethea caught fire Tuesday afternoon, unfortunately for visiting Montclair High School.

The Hofstra-bound senior guard scored a career-high 40 points, including making eight 3-pointers, as Immaculate Conception defeated the Mounties, 92-55, Jan. 7 at the IC gym,

“I was feeling good,” said Bethea, who also added 11 rebounds “Early on my teammates got me going. They saw me shooting threes a lot, saw that I was hot, so they just kept giving me the ball. So, I really thank my teammates for this performance.”

The Lions used a 12-0 run at the end of the first half to run away from Montclair and improve to 2-0 in SEC-American Division play (5-4 overall) following their 74-57 defeat of Seton Hall Prep Sunday afternoon at Kean.

Bethea scored 20 against the Pirates on Sunday, and doubled that in an impressive effort. 

“He got hot early, we recognized that as a team and started looking for him. Which I thought was a good thing,” said Lions head coach Jimmy Salmon.

While the 12-point run to finish the first half was key for the Lions’ to pull away from the Mounties (1-7, 0-2), early turnovers were Montclair’s key to keeping things close in the first 12 minutes of the game. 

The Lions were sloppy during that span, and MHS was able to take advantage of numerous turnovers and bad passes on the part of their opponents. Omarion Jett and Reid Eaves were both able to turn mistakes into baskets for the Mounties, who ended the first down just 16-13.

Teddy Gray also helped the Mounties keep the game within reach during the first half of the second quarter, with he and Jett combining for nine points to pull MHS into a 25-25 tie.

But from there it would be all Immaculate. Bethea scored eight consecutive points, including a pair of 3s, and Amar’e Marshall made back-to-back baskets including a thunderous dunk to give the Lions a 37-25 halftime lead.

That roll continued into the second half, as Immaculate outscored Montclair 33-19 in the third quarter, and the Mounties never regained their footing in the game.

Marshall finished second in scoring for the Lions with 20 points, while Zayon Marsh had a game-high 13 rebounds.

Jett was the high scorer for Montclair with 20, with Evans and Jason Douglas chipping in 8 points each.

Both Bethea and Salmon said the key to the Lions success both in this game and in general this season, is sharing the ball.

“When we share the ball, we’re a good team. When we don’t share the ball, we’re not a good team,” Salmon said. 

Montclair’s difficult early-season stretch continues tonight, Thursday, Jan. 9, when they travel to Seton Hall Prep for a 7 p.m. tip-off. They’ll play an SEC crossover game against a solid Bloomfield team this Saturday, Jan. 11, at 1 p.m. in Bloomfield. The Mounties will then host their home opener — a month into the regular season — this Tuesday, Jan. 14, against Payne Tech.

Immaculate, meanwhile, will look to stake its claim as one of the favorites to win both the American Division and the Essex County Tournament with their schedule over the next several weeks.

That schedule includes three big American Division games in the next six days: ICHS visits Newark East Side in a rematch of last February’s ECT final, scheduled for today, Jan. 9, at 4 p.m. They will host Payne Tech this Saturday, Jan. 11, at 1 p.m., and then welcome Columbia on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 4.