by Andrew Garda
Immaculate Conception High School boys basketball team found itself in a bit of a dogfight Monday night, Feb. 4, when the West Side Roughriders arrived at the ICHS gym for a battle between two of the best teams in the state.
In the end ICHS, NJ.com’s No. 7 team, beat the No. 13 Roughriders 85-63 on the strength of a dominating second half where they outscored West Side 51-22.
The Lions surge was fueled by a defense which out muscled the smaller West Side team, while the offense scored almost at will, dismantling the Roughriders defense.
As is often the case, Zion Bethea and Elijah Hutchins-Everett were huge factors in the second half turnaround, but the most dynamic force was senior Nick Jordain, whose numerous rim-rattling dunks sent the home crowd into a frenzy and amped up the energy of his teammates.
For head coach Jimmy Salmon, Jourdain’s big game was nothing new. “He’s played that way for the last month. So, I wasn’t surprised.”
Jourdain scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter alone, and dominated at the glass as well.
When West Side shifted their attention to Jourdain, Hutchins-Everrett made them pay, and when both of them were covered, Bethea took over.
Amar’e Marshall also stepped up, scoring seven of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Hutchins-Everett finished the game with 19 points, and Bethea had 16.
While the Lions were scoring, the Roughriders were throwing up bricks, clanging shot after shot off the rim and failing to score on most of the rebounds they grabbed, missing three shots in a row at one stretch from in the key.
It was a much different game than fans saw in the first half, especially in the second quarter.
The first quarter saw the teams trade the lead back and forth multiple times, though ICHS out-rebounded West Side 10-5.
During that second quarter, though, West Side’s smaller size and aggressive play seemed to catch the Lions off guard. It’s unusual to see ICHS bullied on their own floor, but that’s what the Roughriders did.
“They did that two years ago when they played us,” Salmon said. “Sometimes because of our size, our court can be a deterrent to us. When you’ve got big guys you need an opportunity to show length your and use space. We don’t [always] have that opportunity at our place. We appreciate having [the gym], but it definitely worked more in their favor than ours today.”
Games on the small floor at Immaculate Conception High School are always battles, with so little room on the court or even alongside it — the benches for each team barely fit between the edge of the court and the wall behind them — and with high school sized players on the court, the physical play can raise tempers. It certainly did once or twice during the first half, as players battled for possession, sometimes even after the whistle was blown.
Often, it’s the visiting team which seems rattled, but Monday night it was Immaculate who seemed out of sorts.
As the team headed into the locker-room down 41-34, they seemed shocked and frustrated.
What a difference a halftime makes, though.
When the third quarter resumed, ICHS went on a 12-5 run, with Bethea and Marshall scoring key buckets. West Side was able to respond at first, but slowly the Lions began to dominate the boards again, while disrupting West Side’s offense.
By the end of the quarter, ICHS led 55-54.
Despite trailing by just one point, that quarter seemed to break West Side’s spirit.
The fourth quarter was all Immaculate.
Salmon was pleased with the win, as well as the way his team has begun to play.
“The last month, we’ve taken a step in the right direction, [and] we’re playing way better than we did in December,” he said. “I think the tough teams we had have kind of prepared us for the end of the season, at least that was the plan anyway. I wanted us early to feel like every game was a dogfight so when we got into league play, county play and state play, it wasn’t a new thing. And that at least worked today.”
Immaculate had better be prepared to see a fired-up West Side again at least once, as they are scheduled to visit the Roughriders on Feb. 2, and could see them late in the Essex County Tournament as well.
Salmon knows his team will be ready though.
“We’re still young,” he said. “So we’re never taking anything for granted.”