by Andrew Garda
CALDWELL—The season continues on for Immaculate Conception’s girls basketball team, as the No. 4-seeded Lions beat the No. 5-seeded St. Elizabeth Panthers, 57-52 in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Non-Public, North B Tournament.
It wasn’t an easy victory for ICHS, as the Panthers constantly nipped at the Lions’ heels for three quarters, putting together runs every time Immaculate built a lead.
Head coach Joe Whalen said that it was in part because the team became less disciplined on defense. At first, the Lions zone defense was very sharp and they picked off multiple passes on defense, which they turned into offensive opportunities.
That success seemed to make them a bit too aggressive though.
“We started out OK doing it and then we started going for their ball-fakes,” Whalen explained. “We were leaving our feet and then they were making a J.J. Reddick-type lateral move, jump shot.”
Whalen is big on self-correction, though, and so he didn’t panic. He knew his team would sort it out.
As the game wore on, they stayed aggressive and continued to pressure the Panthers, but they made less ball-grasping lunges, and did a better job containing St. Elizabeth on offense.
They also began to do better rebounding. While the Panthers ultimately owned the glass with 34 rebounds to the Lions’ 21, the second half—and especially the fourth quarter—saw Immaculate more determined to get rebounds, both limiting St. Elizabeth’s second chances and creating their own on offense.
That was especially important during the final 3:30 of the game.
St. Elizabeth was coming off a foul shot which had given them a 52-49 lead. The Lions missed their next shot and then the Panthers began moving the ball around, trying to burn seconds off the clock.
Then with one 3-point basket by Jordan Hill with 2:47 left, the game was tied.
“The way we shoot, we’re never out of a game,” Whalen said. “Jordan drilled a three to put us back in the game.”
The Panthers never scored again.
That’s not to say it was easy, as St. Elizabeth’s six 3-point shots had proven they too could make a run at any time.
Nasira Williams scored a basket with 1:19 left to give ICHS a 54-52 lead and then was fouled with 36.6 seconds left. She made her first basket, but missed her second.
Which is when Taylor Williams stepped in. The shot bounced off the rim and to the right of the basket, and William battled two Panthers for possession. It was knocked away from her but Williams chased after the ball and scooped it up.
She then turned and sank a short jumper to put her team up 56-52 with 29.3 seconds left. St. Elizabeth tried to move the ball up the court, but lost possession and in the ensuing scramble, sent Taylor Williams to the line again.
While she only made one of her two free throws, it was enough to make sure the game was completely out of reach.
“They made plays at the end,” said Whalen. “They got rebounds, loose balls, there was a big steal. Taylor, off the missed free throw had a put-back, and then we made the steal at three-quarter court.”
Jordan Hill led the team with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Taylor Williams finished with 14 points and three assists.
Nasira Williams had 15 points and Azatah Lawrence had four rebounds. The entire team had 8 steals compared to just 2 for St. Elizabeth.
Whalen credited all six of the players he used with the win, but but felt Jordan Hill and Taylor Williams had the biggest impact.
“I think it’s a lot about two seniors that want to keep playing.”
And they will keep playing, meeting top-seeded Saddle River Day on the road Monday in the semifinal round. Tip-off time has not yet been scheduled.