Montclair boys hoopsters down crosstown rivals on Senior Night
By EDWARD KENSIK
It was twice the incentive for the Montclair High School boys basketball team on Tuesday night, Feb. 22.
Not only was it Senior Night for the Mounties at their gym, but they were playing crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy.
For Montclair and, unfortunately for the Cougars, it was possibly the best game the Mounties have played in this roller-coaster season.
The result was a 71-60 victory, as Montclair pulled away in the fourth quarter. Appropriately, it was two seniors, Colin Gibson and Shahood Sutton, who led the squad in scoring, with 20 and 15 points respectively.
“It’s just great to win your senior game in front of your home fans and family,” Montclair head coach Gary Wallace said. “It was a memory that they can hold onto despite the forever-changing landscape of our season.”
Wallace said his team gave the seniors a big send-off in their final home game.
“The win over MKA was a great win for us considering the highs and lows of the season,” the coach said. “This is the best I’ve seen our team play offensively and defensively since our tough loss at Newark Central last season.”
Sutton recalled that over the years Montclair had come out on the losing side of these games. “I think we are the first seniors to win in the last two or three years,” a smiling Sutton said after the game about playing the Cougars. “I remember the sophomore year, the first year I played varsity, and we beat them [MKA].”
For Gibson, the victory could not have been sweeter. “We’ve played against each other once a year,” he said. “It’s our crosstown rival and it was Senior Night. It was just fun to play them.”
The Montclair seniors’ production overshadowed a good night from Montclair Kimberley senior Brennan Columbia-Walsh, who had a game-high 23 points. But Columbia-Walsh had only five points in the fourth quarter, and four of the five came with 90 seconds left, when the Mounties had basically clinched the victory. MKA junior Marley Stewart added 15 points.
“Defensively, when we stopped gambling, we did a tremendous job winning our one-on-one battles and did a solid job of getting back-side help against their big [Columbia-Walsh] in the post,” Wallace said.
In crunch time in the fourth quarter, the Montclair defense shined as the Cougars tried to feed Columbia-Walsh in the middle. The Mounties would not have any of that.
MKA head coach Tony Jones said the Mounties’ defense and his team’s poor shooting sunk them on the night.
“I give credit to Montclair and their defense,” Jones said. “They turned it up a notch and made it more difficult for us. They made it hard to get inside. That coupled with our lack of perimeter shooting usually has us on the losing end.”
In addition to MKA’s shooting woes, Columbia-Walsh committed his third foul at the start of the fourth quarter, and then his fourth with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
It was Gibson who took care of business with a three-point bucket that had all net from the right corner. “To me I think that was the dagger,” he said about the three, which gave Montclair a 66-54 lead with 1:47 remaining in the game.
In the fourth quarter the Montclair offense and defense ended the pattern of the first three quarters: The Mounties would jump out to a hot start, and the Cougars would come back to slice the Montclair lead to one possession.
With that in mind, Wallace directed his team in the final timeout of the game with two minutes left to not hold anything back. “He just told us to go out and finish strong,” Gibson said. “And to leave nothing else on the floor.”
The win over the Cougars was a good note on a tough stretch in which the Mounties lost seven of the previous eight games.
Montclair jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the game’s first three minutes. In the second quarter, a Gibson bucket gave the Mounties an eight-point bulge, 30-22 with five minutes left in the first half.
But a pair of Columbia-Walsh buckets just before the end of the first half sliced the Montclair lead to two, 32-30.
To start the second half, it appeared to be the Mounties' night, as they again jumped on MKA with the help of Sutton and guard Aaron Hardy, who combined for 11 points in the first three minutes.
Along with Sutton and Gibson, the other Montclair seniors who were honored on Senior Night were Hardy, guard Omari Thusi, guard Elijah Beek and forward Charlie Schmitt.
Montclair finished its season with a 6-14 mark. Montclair Kimberley is 10-8 and travels to Immaculate Conception in the first round of the Non-Public North B state sectionals on Wednesday, March 2.