by Andrew Garda
It wasn’t always easy for the Mounties boys basketball team, but No. 6-seeded Montclair ultimately was able to surge past No. 11-seeded West Orange with a solid 60-48 win.
The Mounties will next play No. 3-seeded and Hudson County Tournament champ Union City on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 4pm.
While the Mounties led for much of the game, West Orange chipped away at the lead with a 16-15 third quarter and trailed by just seven points as the fourth quarter began.
A big part of the problem was MHS getting called for multiple fouls. In fact, the Mounties had accrued seven by the end of the third, while the Mountaineers had not been called for one.
While West Orange didn’t sink a lot of free throws in that period, the whistles meant Montclair’s offense and defense were both disrupted, while head coach Gary Wallace was forced to sit Izaiah McPherson due to foul trouble.
“Zay [McPherson] is a big part of what we do and so when he gets his third or fourth foul with two minutes to go in the third quarter, it hurts us,” Wallace said after the game. “And then the whistles tonight — I’m never going to blame the officials but there were some calls which didn’t go our way and we got a little beside ourselves and guys became unfocused.”
The trouble continued into the final quarter, as Montclair continued to get called for fouls which the Mountaineers didn’t, with the Mounties not getting a foul call until just under six minutes.
While the Mountaineers were trying to further chip away at Montclair’s lead, Wallace was calling timeouts to calm his squad down and remind them that dealing with the officials is what he and his staff is there to do.
“Let us take care of this, you guys go play. Once they did and said ‘coach, we’re good,’ they were fine,” Wallace said. ”We’re still up, it’s still a ballgame, as fast as they made that run, we can make a run so let’s just take our time, do what we do and do the things that got us here.”
Those things were on display once the team settled down, with tenacious defense from Steven Rose, and multiple 3-point shots from DeShawn Davis and Shawn Summers.
Davis, who would finish the game with 20 points, scored 10 of his points in the fourth, including two huge 3-point shots, which stifled West Orange runs. Summers did the same with key baskets, including his own long-range 3-point shot.
It was Davis who really shone in the fourth, and for Wallace, that was something he’s been waiting to see.
“We told him the other day, what do shooters do? Shooters shoot. If I was in your position and I had the gift you had, I would be running the floor trying to get as many shots as I could. And he found a way tonight to do that and he let the game come to him.”
Davis said it was just a matter of getting that first big shot in.
“Once I saw the first one or two go in, it just started to open up for me and I just made the rest,” he said. “I felt good tonight and my teammates just stuck together, played together and that helped me score more.”
While Montclair kept scoring points, their defense stepped up as well.
But while Rose led the way, numerous other Mounties stepped up as well to help out.
“We know Stevie’s can’t do it by himself,” Wallace said. “Steven changes the momentum in games, but I tell these guys, when you’re all laser focused and locked in, we’re a great basketball team. One guy can’t win this. It’s gonna take fifteen guys to reach our goal. Fifteen. Whether you play 3 seconds or 32 minutes. It has to be all 15 guys.”
During the last quarter, as the Mounties took control of the game and put away West Orange, Wallace said he thought he saw them finally getting it.
“I think these guys are understanding, when they do that one the floor, play smart, do it together, we’re all right,” Wallace said. “I think we’re starting to really come together and buy in at the right time, but it’s not over. We’ve still got a lot to do and a tough game ahead of us.”
Looking at Union City, Wallace said despite the quick turnaround, the team knows what they’ll get from their opponent.
“We know what they’re about, they’re very guard oriented, they love to attack the basket,” Wallace said of the Soaring Eagles. “Their one guard, No 3, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, he can dribble, he can pass. Then they have a couple of bigs that can shoot.”
Wallace said it’s like looking into a mirror, at least to some extent.
“They almost look like us. So we’re going to have to go in there with a mindset, of being disciplined, not letting the crowd get to us and playing sound basketball. We’re going in to shock some people to come out with a W.”