by Andrew Garda

The Montclair High School boys basketball team had just set up to in-bound the ball after the Columbia Cougars had drawn to within a point on a key three-point shot. The Mounties led the Cougars in overtime, 62-61, and were looking to hang on to the win. But they had to make one more big play.

Tarrin Earle let his team get set up, then clapped the ball in his hand, propelling the Mounties into action. Gabe Schreiber found himself open, and Earle passed him the ball. Schreiber then sent the ball to the opposite end, where a pair of Mounties — Zion Wyatt and Charles Murphy Jr. — waited to take possession as the clock expired.

It wasn’t easy, but when the Mounties needed to step up, they did, getting a big overtime victory over Columbia on Tuesday night.

Montclair head coach Gary Wallace wasn’t going to quibble over how they got it, he was just happy to get the win.

“Every night isn’t going to be pretty,” Wallace said after the game. “Some nights will be a slug-fest, and for some reason we like to be in a slug-fest. We don’t like to blow teams out by 20 or 15 points. We like to make it interesting.”

It certainly was that, as the Mounties showed they have the grit and tenacity a team needs to overcome tough situations.

Wyatt led the way and his biggest contribution was the basket to tie the score with less than seven seconds left and send the game into overtime. On the play, Wyatt took a pass from Schreiber and drove toward the basket. One defender lunged at the ball and missed, as Wyatt leaped into the air and let the ball loose.

A few seconds later, the Mounties were in overtime.

Wyatt kicked things off in the extra period as well, igniting a 6-0 run that included baskets from Tarrin Earle and Shawn Summers.

Columbia responded with a basket and a free throw, before Schreiber hit a free throw of his own to put the Mounties up 62-58.

Then Columbia hit a key three-point shot and Earle was faced with a tough in-bound pass.

The rest is history.

Getting into overtime was not an easy task, though MHS actually led, 13-11, after the first quarter. But the Cougars began to find their rhythm and assert their will on the floor while the Mounties turned the ball over too much in the second quarter, and they trailed 27-21 at halftime.

Things continued to look grim to start the third quarter as Columbia outscored Montclair on a 13-6 run.

Junior Gabe Schreiber shoulders his way past a Columbia defender during the second half of Montclair's 62-61 overtime win.
Junior Gabe Schreiber shoulders his way past a Columbia defender during the second half of Montclair's 62-61 overtime win.

“I think we lost our focus at the start of the third,” Schreiber said. “We were taking stupid shots and we needed to come back together as a team.”

The Mounties seemed to relax a bit and began to lock down defensively. Then Schreiber used a basket plus a foul to start Montclair on its own run.

The Mounties closed out the third with 10 straight points.

It wasn’t just key players, like Wyatt or Schreiber, who helped lift the Mounties out of the doldrums, but role players off the bench as well.

Players like Steven Rose, Deshawn Davis and Destine Holt-Virgil all came in and contributed whether with baskets (Rose) or a key rebound (Davis). Wallace subbed early and often throughout the game, looking for something to give his team a burst of energy and found it with that trio.

“Those guys came off the bench and gave us a nice spark,” he said. “I tell the guys, sometimes with the way the game flows, you might not play 15 minutes, but I need you to give me all you got when you’re in there. Because you might be the one who sparks something.”

The Mounties will need more sparks with tough road games this week against Immaculate Conception on Thursday and North Bergen on Friday. They’ll also be hearing about their county seeding Monday night.