By Andrew Garda
If the Montclair High School boys basketball team wanted a challenge to tune themselves up for the state tournament, they got all that and more from Millburn Thursday night.
In a hard-fought, seesaw game which went into overtime, the Mounties came up just a little short, dropping the game to the rival Millers, 62-59.
“We knew it was going to be a battle coming into this game today,” Montclair head coach Gary Wallace said after the loss. “I tell these guys, games come down to getting stops and free throws. We missed a couple of rebounds and a couple of free throws in regulation that would have sealed it. That’s basketball.”
Those missed opportunities were indicative of an effort that at times was a bit shaky. The Mounties showed they were capable of tough, aggressive defense, stymieing Millburn’s offense for stretches of time, only to falter at the last moment. At one point the defense kept the Millers from shooting for over a minute, forcing their opponent to move the ball constantly in a struggle to find an open shot, only to have that lane open up and Millburn score at the end.
The Mounties trailed at the half, 27-24, and came out struggling at the start of the third quarter. The team looked sluggish at both ends of the court and couldn’t find a way to get the ball to drop in the basket.
Then, with just over four minutes to go in the period, junior Tarrin Earle sank a two-pointer, and was followed quickly by sophomore Charles Murphy (who led the team in scoring with 15 points) with a beautiful layup. Earle then stole the ball at mid-court, dished it to Murphy who gave it right back to Earle for a score.
Just like that the Mounties were surging. A 14-6 run to end the third quarter pulled them within 41-39.
Millburn refused to fold, though, and the two teams traded punches all throughout the fourth quarter. The Mounties had a one-point lead with less than a minute to go, but the Millers had fouls to give and used them to disrupt Montclair’s ability to get to the basket.
After finally entering the bonus, Montclair still was only able to sink one of their free throws, and then couldn’t hold their two-point lead at the end of regulation.
The two teams again traded scores during overtime, but Millburn slowly pulled ahead. With just 14.9 seconds left and trailing by three points, the Mounties began using the same tactic the Millers had at the end of regulation and began fouling. They targeted center Zach Ravitz, but after missing his first two free throws, the big man sank three of his next four and put the game away.
Despite the disappointing end to Thursday’s game, Wallace is optimistic about the state tournament.
“The floor is wide open right now,” he said. “Paterson is out. This leaves an opportunity for a lot of teams, so you’ve got to make some noise. So we’re excited, my guys are excited and we’re ready to go.”