Cougars sophomore Luke Kolaja swats away a shot from Montclair’s Tarrin Earle on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

by Andrew Garda

Montclair Kimberley Academy’s boys basketball team welcomed their opposite number from Montclair High School on Wednesday, Feb. 21. It was the second time the two teams had met, but once again the Mounties spoiled a home game for the Cougars, beating them 59-54.

The game was mostly a tune-up for both team as they prepared for the opening round of the NJSIAA State Tournaments.

Both teams played a bit sloppy, and neither coach was particularly pleased with the overall effort.

“We played a double overtime game yesterday,” coach Tony Jones said after the game, referring to the 90-89 win over North 13th Street Tech. “So our energy wasn’t the best. The game felt sluggish. And trying to get them to focus and do the things that give us some success was a struggle today.”

“The first half, the guys did pretty well,” Montclair head coach Gary Wallace said. “The second half we just had some spaces where we just lost our minds. And that last 1:15 was just like some great debacle and it started when Murph fouled number 20. That started their momentum. They hit three free throws, we missed two in a row, they come down and score again. we go one for two, they come down and score again, we go o-for-2. You can’t win a ballgame like that.”

MKA senior Cartert McNeal drives against MHS junior Charles Murphy Jr during the Mounties’ 59-54 win on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Both coaches said they needed to tighten their games up, as the Mounties would be facing Hackensack in the North 1, Group 4 state bracket, while the Cougars faced St, Mary (Rutherford) in the North Jersey, Non-Public B.

MKA and MHS were both on the road for their games, but while the Cougars came out with a 65-54 victory in Rutherford, the Mounties saw their season end with an 87-71 loss.

Eleventh-seeded MKA will move on to the North B quarterfinals tonight, Thursday, March 1, at third-seeded St. Mary of Elizabeth.

“The final score wasn’t indicative of the game,” Wallace said on a phone call after the loss. Wallace pointed to several times where the Mounties were down by significant margins only to claw back into the game.

“The guys fought hard and I couldn’t ask more of them. Some of the guys played their best games. Marcus Crowell did a heck of a job on the glass tonight and taking charges. Tarrin Earle, as usual, played hard. Charles Murphy played probably his best game of the season.”

Montclair’s Gabe Schrieber goes up for a layup in the Mounties recent 59-54 win over the MKA Cougars.

As happened several times during the season, though, it was the small things which hurt the Mounties.

“It was the little mental errors here and there that cost us, but I think this should light a fire underneath the underclassmen. Guys were very emotional in the locker room and they know we let one get away today.”

Despite the loss, Wallace said he and the coaching staff can see the growth of their players over the season, and have high expectations for next season.

Interestingly, while many outsiders have felt the Mounties were misplaced in the SEC—American, Wallace doesn’t.

“To be honest with you, I hope they keep us in this division,” Wallace said. “Because I think this is good for our guys, especially come playoff time. Obviously you want to win the regular season, you want to win your division. But the schedule pushed us during the regular season to get better. Because even this year we stayed with teams that people didn’t expect us to play with. The only way for these guys to get better is to play the best, and the only way we can grow and really establish the program is to put your foot on the throttle and challenge kids to get better.”

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