by Andrew Garda
After a rough early season where they stumbled to a 4-3 record, the Montclair Mounties boys basketball team is rolling. The team won back-to-back games on Thursday, Jan. 17, and Friday, Jan. 18, followed by a win on Tuesday to push the Mounties’ win streak to six in a row.
Thursday was the bigger win, a 72-44 shellacking of Bloomfield, and marking the second game in a row where Montclair scored more than 70 points.
Senior Shawn Summers led the team Thursday night with 18 points, including a pair of three-point baskets, with fellow senior DeShawn Davis second on the team with 11 points.
They were only the tip of the sword though, especially during the first half, when 10 Mounties found the basket to build a 39-23 lead.
Head coach Gary Wallace said that some onlookers may think he’s crazy playing 15 players, as he did Thursday night, but he swears there’s a method to the madness.
“Tonight I was able to get everybody in,” Wallace said after the game. “And I do that because there’s going to be a time where if somebody isn’t clocking, I need to know what some guys can do in some situations. So that’s why I do it.”
Still, having the sharpshooting Summers, who has totaled 48 points in the last three games, get hot helps takes pressure off a player like Charles Murphy Jr when he totals just 4 points as he did against Bloomfield.
Murphy doesn’t have to carry the weight of the whole offense, and allows him to direct traffic instead of force shots.
The Mounties have also been successful in large part during the first half because they were solid at the glass. Montclair led Bloomfield 14-7 in rebounds, which means the Mounties got a lot of second chances on offense, while defensively they were able to limit the Bengals second chances.
That’s a stark difference than their last loss, when Seton Hall Prep dominated rebounds.
Even when the team doesn’t win the board battle, they are still close enough to score enough on second chances to keep their lead.
With the Bloomfield game though, the most impressive part of the win was being able to do it with so many bench players on the floor. Wallace said that he isn’t surprise, as he has worked hard to make sure every player on his roster can step in and play without a severe drop-off in production.
That was most evident when Steven Rose had to leave the game in the first quarter when he quickly racked up three fouls. Despite a key starter and defender riding the pine, the Mounties didn’t lose a step.
“When we practice we don’t put all our starters with only starters,” Wallace explained. “I put the starters with some of the guys who might not play as much, so now when the games get going, and a guy goes down, the other guys know how to play with each other.”
Wallace had another purpose to emptying his bench, though.
“I did it too because we have a doubleheader, an away game [Friday],” Wallace said. “So I felt as though we had a big enough lead and I could take four guys out, put four guys in, stealing as many minutes as I could so these guys have fresh legs tomorrow.”
That worked out for Wallace and the Mounties as well, with Montclair taking Barringer down 62-52 in a wire-to-wire victory.
Once again though, it was someone other than Murphy who carried the load, at least early on. The Blue Bears were effective in limiting Murphy during the first half, but that meant other Mounties had the opportunity to take advantage, and they did, especially Izaiah McPherson.
McPherson took position at the low post, taller than the majority of players on the court, and scored nine points before the end of the first, helping the Mounties lead 30-20.
Murphy would end up getting on track, scoring 18 points on the night, but again, nine different Montclair players contributed points to the win.
The Mounties then edged Orange on Tuesday night, 42-39, bringing their streak to six wins in a row, bringing their record to 10-3 overall, and keeping them undefeated in the Liberty division. With five of their final six regular season games against division rivals, the Mounties have a chance to put away the division title, but it won’t be easy.
While the road might be rough, the Mounties started on it with a big 48-45 win over East Orange, to stay perfect in the Liberty Division and improve their record to 11-3.