Edward Kensik for the Montclair Local
The Montclair High School boys basketball program wants to tell everybody that the school is not just a football school.
The Mounties started to show that on Saturday, outlasting Newark Central in overtime, 78-71, in the Essex County Tournament Round of 16, meaning they’ll have a shot to make even more noise next weekend.
“This is huge,” said senior guard Charles Murphy Jr. who is one of 11 seniors on the 2018-19 team. “Everybody knows Montclair is a football school, but we want it to be known as a basketball school.”
The eighth-seeded Mounties (13-5) will have the opportunity to make a big statement this Saturday, Feb. 16, when they visit top-seeded Newark East Side, the three-time defending Essex County champion, in the quarterfinal round.
And Murphy knows what his team has to execute to beat East Side.
“We need to cut down on our turnovers and have to play more crisper basketball,” said the senior guard.
Montclair was a little more balanced than ninth-seeded Newark Central in this game, with five players scoring in double figures. Murphy led the Mountie attack with 19 points including three 3-point buckets. Along with Murphy, three Montclair players scored a dozen points in senior Deshawn Davis, Reid Eaves and senior Izaiah McPherson. Another senior, point guard Shawn Summers, added 11 points.
Throughout the game, Montclair was out in front, leading 33-29 at halftime and 46-43 after three quarters, occasionally pulling ahead by leads of seven-to-nine points. But every time the Mounties would get a more comfortable lead, Newark Central would come storming back.
In fact, the Blue Devils (5-14), who play in the Super Essex Conference’s top tier, the American Division, took the game down to the wire. Murphy hit a pair of free throws in the last 18 seconds to tie the game at 65-65, he then grabbed a key defensive rebound as time expired when Central missed a couple of shots to win the game.
In overtime Newark Central scored first and were about to take a possible five-point lead, but Dejaan Clark missed on both free throw attempts.
On the next trip down, Reid Eaves hit what was probably the biggest bucket of the game when he drained a 3-point shot and was fouled. Eaves hit the ensuing free throw to give the Mounties a 71-70 lead with two minutes left to play.
“I felt it and my coach was telling me to take the shot,” said Eaves, who added that practice in the offseason helped out. “I took about a 100 three point shots a day during the summer.”
Davis would lock up the win by scoring five of his dozen points in the final 90 seconds to secure the victory and give Montclair a shot at the tournament favorite.
While the county tournament is on their mind, the Mounties will be looking to lock up the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division title tonight, Thursday, Feb. 14, 7 p.m., at Bloomfield. The Mounties are 8-1 in the division, 1.5 games ahead of Columbia and Barringer, and will clinch the division title outright with two wins in their final three league contests, or by winning one of the three combined with one loss apiece from the Cougars and Bears.
Additionally, Montclair found out their path in the upcoming NJSIAA North 1, Group IV state tournament. MHS is the No. 6 seed in the section and will battle 11th-seeded West Orange in the opening round on Monday, Feb. 25. The Mounties defeated the Mountaineers of the American Division, 58-47, on Feb. 2.