by Andrew Garda
PATERSON — It’s a new year, and Immaculate Conception’s boys basketball team has a new message.
They want everyone to know that the Lions have arrived, and they drove that home with a roaring 69-61 win over powerhouse Ranney.
“It shows that we’ve arrived,” senior guard Jalen Carey said about the victory. “We’re ready to take over.”
Coming off a successful run at Slam Dunk to the Beach in Delaware, the Lions had momentum from beating two strong out of state teams in the form of St. James (MD) by a score of 62-56 and Archbishop Woods High School (PA) in a 63-59 win. Ranney, a Top 20 ranked team in New Jersey, who boasts two highly recruited juniors as well as a potent offense, had also beaten several high-powered teams from outside the state.
IC came to play, however, and led by senior guard Jalen Carey’s 29 points, put any doubters on notice that the Lions are a force to be reckoned with.
Three tough teams led to three big wins and if the rest of the SEC-American aren’t taking notice, they should be.
“I really like how we’re playing,” coach Jimmy Salmon said after the game. “The kids are really united and we’re going to ride the wave as long as it’s there.”
Most critically, this Lions team showed they have finally found a way to overcome the second half lulls which had hurt them previously.
Immaculate trailed at the close of the first half by a score of 31-30. Carey scored to open the half but Ranney responded immediately, going on an 8-2 run and taking a 39-34 lead.
In other games, the Lions had stumbled and taken too long to right themselves costing them a victory against the Seton Hall Prep Pirates, and making things tough on themselves while winning against the Montclair Mounties.
On Monday, they responded quickly and decisively, going on their own 16-7 run to finish the third with a decisive 50-46 lead.
The run also was one of those moments where an observer sees how special Carey can be. The Syracuse commit took over the game, scoring 9 points during the run. Carey’s efforts seemed to spark his team as well, with point guard Jayden Brown adding a key three-point shot, and forward Justin Winston scoring four points.
“They sat in a 3-2 towards the end,” Carey said after the win. “So, our main goal coming out of halftime was to pick that 3-2 apart. Once they went man, I felt it would open the game up. We were able to get what we wanted and come out with the win.”
“We think he’s a McDonalds All-American, and we hope that he gets voted into the game,” Salmon said of Carey. “He’s been playing great.”
Salmon also said that the way his team reacted to Ranney’s run showed him the mental fortitude he knew they had.
“When you have a situation like that, we need to regroup and come out and positively respond,” Salmon said. “And we did. That was a major key in the game. When we came back and scored the way we did, we proved we weren’t going anywhere.”
The Panthers refused to go away in the fourth, but the Lions, led by Carey, as well as great foul shooting, kept them at arms-length, outscoring Ranney 19-15 during the period.
Along with Carey’s efforts to boost his team, the Lions also benefited from some excellent ball movement throughout the game. Both Winston and Elijah Hutchins-Everett had eight assists each, and the Lions were especially effective moving the ball around near the end of the game when Ranney was frantic to steal it back.
Winston would finish the game with 18 points as well.
For the Lions, while the win is big, they aren’t about to dwell on it too much. There’s still a lot of work to do.
“It’s my senior year and I’m trying to win every game I can,” Carey said. “We’ve got West Orange on Wednesday, and we’re not going to overlook teams.”