The Montclair boys basketball team kept fighting and fighting in the second half on Thursday, Feb. 3, in an Essex County Tournament game against Belleville.

After a great start, the 17th-seeded Mounties dropped behind the 16th-seeded Bucs and were down by 15 early in the third quarter.

But Montclair chipped away at the Belleville lead until it tied the game at 59 behind a pair of free throws from Aaron Hardy with only 1:12 remaining in the contest.

Unfortunately, the Mounties could not seal the deal.

After a couple of untimely turnovers, the Mounties were forced to foul, and that did them in, as they fell 67-59 at Montclair High School in a county tournament third-round game. The Mounties dropped to 4-8 overall on the season.

Montclair head coach Gary Wallace said that he liked the fight in his team, but added the team has a habit of procrastinating in getting going when it is down.

“You can’t wait until you get in a hole,” he said. “I wish we came with the same effort the entire game.”

For Wallace that has been the issue so far this season: The team plays without consistency during a game but plays well in spurts.

“At this time of the year we want to be in the flow,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Montclair boys hoops did hit a pause at the beginning of the season when they did not play a game in a month due to COVID issues.

But Wallace does not want to tie those issues to the team’s play. “We can’t use COVID protocols as an excuse,” he said. “Everybody is dealing with the same thing. We have to come out and play hard.”

Montclair High School boys basketball head coach Gary Wallace talks to his team during a timeout against Belleville. (EDWARD KENSICK/STAFF)
Montclair High School boys basketball head coach Gary Wallace talks to his team during a timeout against Belleville. (EDWARD KENSICK/STAFF)

In the end against Belleville, the Bucs’ Nasir Bey was the difference, with a game-high 29 points, including four at the free-throw line in the last minute.

The Mounties defense also was not able to stop the quick Belleville point guard, Ethan Laquindanum. “Their point guard made phenomenal reads,” Wallace said.

For Montclair, the senior trio of Collin Gibson (15), Shahaad Sutton (12) and Aaron Hardy (13) combined for 40 of the 59 Mountie points. Hardy scored all 13 of his points in the second half.

Montclair made its big run in the fourth quarter, going on an 18-6 tear. Two of the big buckets were back-to-back threes from Gibson and Hardy that sliced the lead to two, 59-57.

During the timeouts in the fourth quarter, Wallace continued to prod his team to keep pushing. “I told them to keep it going and not give up,” the coach said.

The game became chippy, with both teams being called for a handful of technical fouls. Belleville’s Laquindanum hit four straight free throws at the start of the fourth quarter that handed the Mounties a 50-37 deficit before their comeback.

“I told them that we can only control what we can do,” Wallace said. “We just need to shut up. Our game will speak for ourselves, and we will get a W.”

Montclair lost another tough one just before the contest against Belleville, at West Side, 62-51, on Feb. 1.

In that Super Essex Conference battle, the Mounties played well in the first half and saw West Side run away from them in the second half. Sutton and junior Ian Muchinueta led Montclair in scoring with 13 and 11 points respectively.