by Andrew Garda
Talking to the coaches after Immaculate Conceptions’ 78-65 win over Montclair High School on Thursday, Dec. 21, you might have been confused as to which basketball team had ended up with the victory.
Immaculate coach Jimmy Salmon was once again frustrated by his squad’s second-half fade, while Montclair coach Gary Wallace, disappointed as he was by the loss, was heartened by his team’s resilience and toughness.
Salmon had already been through this after a third-quarter stumble against Seton Hall Prep on Dec. 15 resulted in a 61-58 loss. Against the Mounties, IC’s fourth-quarter swoon didn’t lose them the game, but it could have.
Montclair “did play really hard, they just ran out of time,” Salmon said after the win. “That’s really what happened. They just ran out of time.”
So despite the victory, Salmon and his staff were frustrated as to why a talented, determined team like the Lions keeps putting itself in these positions.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” he responded when asked why IC kept faltering. “The problem can’t be the effort we’re giving in practice. So as a coaching staff we’ve just got to continue to try and find a way to get us over that valley. And it’s not a pinhole, it’s a valley.”
Wallace, on the other hand, saw his team learn that if it plays together, it can compete in a tough division.
“We were talking to the guys and said, ‘You guys have got to compete.’ When we played [hard] we competed,” Wallace said.
For Wallace, competing is something beyond wins and losses.
“Competing is taking pride when you step on the floor, no matter what the score is,” he said. “I think my guys did a better job of understanding that in the second half, going into the fourth quarter and saying, ‘If we can compete and take care of the basketball, we give ourselves a great shot of being in the game.’ And that’s what we did.”
One of the Mounties who stepped up the most in the fourth quarter was junior Dashawn Davis.
In just 8 minutes of action Davis, who had seen his minutes reduced because he’d missed some team activities, put together 10 points, including a pair of three’s and several key passes.
“He provided a real spark,” Wallace said. “I tell these guys — and they think I’m hard on them when I say, ‘You missed a practice or you were late to practice and you’re going to sit.’ But that’s holding them accountable.”
Wallace said that Davis wasn’t the only one who had lost time against Columbia and Immaculate, but that they needed to understand that not fulfilling their commitments had consequences.
“I tell them, ‘If you do what I ask you to do, be where I ask you to be, you’ll get your chance on the floor. Make it count.’ [Davis] did that tonight,” Wallace said.
Unfortunately, Davis’ fourth-quarter effort, along with some key baskets from Charles Murphy Jr., was not enough to overcome the Lions.
IC’s offensive effort was once again led by senior Jalen Carey. The Syracuse commit dropped 26 points on MHS, including four free-throws in the second half. Carey’s success at the line was echoed by several Lions, most notably Rajeon Figures. The sophomore went 4 of 6 from the charity stripe in the closing minutes of the game. Freshman Jayden Brown and sophomore Elijah Hutchins-Everett also were a big part of the offense, with Brown scoring a dozen points and Hutchins-Everett totaling 13.
Still, Salmon wasn’t happy that his team let the Mounties back in the door and knows it’s a sign IC has work to do.
“We’ve seen some things we thought we were further along at, that clearly we aren’t,” Salmon said.
For MHS, the job is to continue to learn how to work together. Wallace said he reminded the team that they were stronger when they leaned on one another than when they played solo. He said he had relayed a story to his team about Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Wallace said that the legendary Coach “K” will tell teams you don’t go into a fight with an open hand, because when you hit someone with it, you can break a finger. You go into a fight with a closed fist, says Krzyzewski, because those five fingers together hit harder.
“It’s the same thing in basketball,” Wallace said. “We fight together, we don’t fight as individuals, In the second half, I think, these guys started to really get that.”