by Andrew Garda

Talking to the coaches after Immaculate Conceptions’ 78-65 win over Montclair High School on Thursday, Dec. 21, you might have been confused as to which basketball team had ended up with the victory.

Immaculate coach Jimmy Salmon was once again frustrated by his squad’s second half fade, while Montclair coach Gary Wallace, disappointed as he was by the loss, was heartened by his team’s resilience and toughness.

Salmon had already been through this after a third quarter stumble against Seton Hall Prep on Dec 15 resulted in a 61-58 loss. Against the Mounties, IC’s fourth quarter swoon didn’t lose them the game, but it could have.

“[Montclair] did play really hard, they just ran out of time,” Salmon said after the win. “That’s really what happened. They just ran out of time.”

So despite the win, Salmon and his staff were frustrated as to why a talented, determined team like the Lions keeps putting itself in these positions.

“That’s the million dollar question,” he responded when asked why IC kept faltering. “The problem can’t be the effort we’re giving in practice. So, as a coaching staff we’ve just got to continue to try and find a way to get us over that valley. And it’s not a pinhole, it’s a valley.”

Wallace, on the other hand, saw his team learn that if it plays together, it can compete in a tough division.

“We were talking to the guys and said, “you guys have got to compete.” When we played [hard] we competed,” Wallace said.

For Wallace, competing is something beyond wins and losses.

“Competing is taking pride when you step on the floor, no matter what the score is,” he said. “I think my guys did a better job of understanding that in the second half, going into the fourth quarter and saying “If we can compete and take care of the basketball, we give ourselves a great shot of being in the game.” And that’s what we did.”

One of the Mounties who stepped up the most in the fourth quarter was junior Dashawn Davis.

In just 8 minutes of action Davis, who had seen his minutes reduced because he’d missed some team activities, put together 10 points including a pair of three’s and several key passes.

“He provided a real spark,” Wallace said. “I tell these guys — and they think I’m hard on them when I say, “You missed a practice or you were late to practice and you’re going to sit.” But that’s holding them accountable.”

Wallace said Davis wasn’t the only one who lost time against Columbia and Immaculate, but they need to understand not fulfilling their commitments has consequences.

“I tell them, if you do what I ask you to do, be where I ask you to be, you’ll get your chance on the floor. Make it count. [Davis] did that tonight.”

Unfortunately, Davis’ fourth quarter effort, along with some key baskets from Charles Murphy Jr, was not enough to overcome the Lions.

IC senior Jalen Carey drives around MHS junior Charles Murphy Jr during the fourth quarter of IC's 78-65 win on December 21.
IC senior Jalen Carey drives around MHS junior Charles Murphy Jr during the fourth quarter of IC's 78-65 win on December 21.

IC’s offensive effort was once again led by senior Jalen Carey. The Syracuse commit dropped 26 points on MHS, including four free throws in the second half. Carey’s success at the line was echoed by several Lions, most notably Rajeon Figures. The sophomore went four-of-six from the charity stripe in the closing minutes of the game. Freshman Jayden Brown and sophomore Elijah Hutchins-Everett also were a big part of the offense, with Brown scoring a dozen points and  Hutchins-Everett totaling 13.

Still, Salmon wasn’t satisfied his team let the Mounties back in the door and knows it’s a sign IC has work to do.

That’s especially true over Christmas break when the Lions travel to Delaware for the Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament.

“We’ve seen some things we thought we were further along at, that clearly we aren’t,” Salmon said. “Our next three games are against national opponents, so we better get ready.”

During  Slam Dunk to the Beach, IC will play tough opponents in the form of Maryland’s Saint James School on December 28 and Pennsylvania’s Archbishop Wood on December 29. Then they return home to play the Ranney School on January 1. None of those teams are pushovers, so the Lions have to find a way to stop the bleeding in the second half.

For MHS, the job is to continue to learn how to work together. Wallace said he reminds the team that they are stronger when they lean on each other than when they play solo. He said he relayed a story to his team about Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Wallace said that the legendary coach “K” will tell teams you don’t do into a fight with an open hand, because when you hit someone with it, you can break a finger. You go into a fight with a closed fist, according to Krzyzewski, because those five fingers together hit harder.

“It’s the same thing in basketball,” Wallace said. “We fight together, we don’t fight as individuals, In the second half, I think, these guys started to really get that.”

Wallace needs to see it consistently though. If they do that, he said, his team can compete in a rough American division.