Cougars coach Tony Jones talks strategy with his team during a break in the fourth quarter of their Prep B Tournament game on Sunday, Feb. 11.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

PENNINGTON — The Montclair Kimberley Academy boys basketball team outscored the Pennington Red Raiders in the second half of their Prep Tournament game, but it wasn’t enough for them to overcome a second-quarter lull, and they ultimately lost 64-58.

That was despite three 3-point shots by Carter McNeal, Myles Farmer and Andrew Friedman and several nice blocks by Luke Kolaja in the fourth quarter that nearly stole the game from Pennington. Every time the Cougars seemed to crawl close to the Red Raiders, though, Pennington would respond with key baskets of their own to hold off their opponent.

The Cougars were led by Farmer’s 20 points, and both Friedman and Kolaja put up 14, while McNeal scored 9.

That was nearly the extent of MKA’s scoring, however, with only Evan Portnoi adding any other points, and his just a free throw.

Pennington had six different scorers, with four of them totaling more than 10 points and one, Patrick Higgins, totaling 21.

“I think we got off to a bit of a slow start in the first quarter,” MKA head coach Tony Jones said. “Early in the third we were pretty good and closed the gap a little bit, Then we had a bit of a lull in the late third, early fourth. To me, that was the difference.”
At the very end of the game, MKA had to resort to fouling Pennington. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders made many of their shots from the charity stripe, holding onto their lead.

The Cougars battled to the end, though, something Jones said he was proud of.

“They really fought hard,” he said. “It wasn’t our best day but, as I told our guys, I think they beat us more than we lost the game. The effort was solid. They were just a little bit better today.”

Jones was also pleased to see the continued contributions of Friedman, who scored four baskets from beyond the arc and has dropped 22 3-point shots over the course of the season, 11 in the last five games.

“We struggled from the perimeter again today, but Andrew certainly helps with those shots,” Jones said. “Andrew’s been great and we really look to him to give us a lift off the bench.”

The Cougars now head home, where they will play three of their next four games and try to get back on track. MKA had won eight in a row before losing to Bloomfield Tech in the County Tournament and then this loss to Pennington. But Tuesday night saw them bounce back with a decisive 74-58 win against North 13th Street Tech. They have senior night on Friday against Livingston, and can continue gaining momentum there and when they head on the road to face North 13th again the following Tuesday. They finish the following Friday at home against West Orange.

After that, they head into the NJSIAA Non-Public North B tournament where, as the No. 11 seed, they will be facing sixth-seeded St. Mary on the road in Rutherford.

“They’ve got a pretty good big,” Jones said. “Dadika, I think his name is. I think his dad played at Rutgers. Yeah, it’ll be interesting.”