Basketball: Cougars shine in crunch time this season
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA
by Andrew Garda
SUMMIT—Most high school basketball coaches tell their players that if you want to win, you have to play four full quarters.
The truth is, sometimes you can get away with a little bit less, if that little bit is dominating.
That was the case on Thursday afternoon as the Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars boys basketball team beat Newark Academy by a score of 60-42 to advance to the finals in the NJ Prep Holiday Classic.
The Cougars would end up losing in the final to host Oratory by a score of 43-34, but for one quarter of basketball on Thursday, they were unstoppable.
With just under four minutes to go in the game against Newark Academy, and leading by just 47-40, the Cougars went on a 15-2 run, sparked by senior Carter McNeal’s coast-to-coast effort, which ended in a layup.
The Cougars would outscore Newark Academy 15-2 during the ensuing run, dominating the final frame with a 22-6 effort.
Head coach Tony Jones didn’t know quite what triggered the turnaround, but he was happy the Cougars pulled it together.
“The fourth quarter has been our best quarter this year so far,” he said after the win. “Even when we lost the other day [to Nutley], we were down 7 or 8 going into the fourth.”
The Cougars have routinely outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter this season, even in losses to Nutley and Oratory. In the Nutley game, they pulled to within 3 points at the end.
Coming out of the third quarter against Newark Academy, Montclair Kimberley had been struggling. MKA led by just a basket and had scored only 9 points in the third quarter. Luckily, Newark Academy struggled as well, allowing the Cougars to keep their lead.
Then the fourth-quarter surge came and allowed MKA to put the lead away. Unfortunately, that surge only helps when the Cougars are able to stay close. In the loss to Nutley, they did and it gave them a chance to win, even if they fell short. Against Oratory, though, MKA trailed by too much so their fourth-quarter run wasn’t as effective.
If the Cougars are struggling, they can only hope someone steps up. Against Newark Academy, the play of center Luke Kolaja allowed them to hold onto the lead in the third even though they had issues scoring. The big sophomore was a defensive beast on Thursday, blocking six shots and grabbing a dozen rebounds to keep control of the ball. He followed up one block by stealing the ball from the Minuteman he was guarding, then completely off-balance, proceeded to feed the ball down the court to Brandon Carter.
That kind of athleticism is surprising in a high school big man, but he was even more impressive for the intelligence and poise he showed in grabbing the ball and finding an open man while falling out of bounds.
Fourth-quarter runs are nice, but not so much when you need them to win.
The Cougars’ struggles earlier in games let Jones and his staff know they have a lot of work to do. They’ve been able to overcome cold spells on the floor before, but as they learned on Friday against Oratory, a hotter shooting team will pull too far ahead. When MKA was struggling to score last week, the problem wasn’t getting open shots, but making them and sometimes even pulling the trigger. In many instances the Cougars seemed to hesitate and pass the ball off despite having a shot.
“It was good. It was a nice quarter,” Jones said after the win over Newark Academy. “We were just sloppy. We’ve got a lot of things we need to work on.”
They found out just how much they had to work on in the tournament final.