by Andrew Garda
Immaculate Conception’s girls basketball team got off to a red-hot start against Saddle River Day Monday night in the semifinal round of the NJSIAA Non-Public, North B Tournament, but couldn’t hold on, falling to the No. 1-seeded team, 65-46.
The No. 4-seeded Lions shocked the Colonial Rebels on March 4 by outscoring them 18-9 in the first quarter, and 31-27 at the halfway mark.
Saddle River Day isn’t ranked as the fourth best team in NJ.com’s top-20 list of girls basketball teams for nothing. They bounced back in the second half, outscoring the Lions 38-15 in that stretch, including holding IC to five points in the fourth quarter.
Junior transfer Kendra Lawrence led the Lions with 13 points, and senior Jordan Hill was close behind with 12, but no other Lions player scored in the double-digits.
“We led at the end of the first quarter by nine, led at the half by three,” said head coach Joe Whalen. “We just kind of ran out of gas. We got into foul trouble, and they kind of got away from us.”
The Lions had been flying high coming into the game after a 57-52 win over No. 5-seeded St. Elizabeth on March 1.
That game was the opposite of the loss to Saddle River Day for IC, as they were a little sluggish at times early on against the Panthers, before heating up in the fourth quarter, and out-scoring St. Elizabeth 15-10.
Hill had once again been one of the players who stepped up in the end, as was fellow senior Taylor Williams.
Whalen knows both players will leave behind sizable gaps when they graduate this spring.
“Jordan Hill, is a great leader and captain. Very vocal with the girls, leads by example. She’s like our Swiss Army knife, she can play multiple positions, guard multiple positions. [Hill] had a great year,” Whalen said. “And Taylor Williams is very athletic. She can get to the rim, guard the other team’s best player. They’re going to be tough to replace, both of them,” Whalen said.
Tough to replace, yes, but Whalen has a lot of players to choose from going forward. Nasira Williams led the entire team in points with 330, assists with 63 and three point baskets with 69. That should ease some of the sting of losing Hill, who was second on the team with 320 points. Hill led the team with 41 steals, while Taylor Williams had 31. Nasira Williams’ 35 will need some help from another member of the returning crew, but there are a lot of potential players.
Whalen will get a full season with sisters Azatah and Kendra Lawrence. In just 18 games, Azatah notched 206 points, 60 rebounds (enough to rank third on the team behind Hill and Taylor Williams) and 20 steals.
Kendra Lawrence, Jailyn Lucas and Justise Jones are all players Whalen will rely on next fall.
“We have a lot coming back, we have a lot to work with. Kids worked hard every day in practice, and we’ll work hard to get better for next year. And hopefully now we all know what it takes to win championships,” Whalen said.
All season long, Whalen spoke about his team self-correcting. With the off-season at hand, he’ll now get a chance to see what they can do to improve while away from the program. While he knows the loss was tough, he hopes that they can take some lessons from it and use them to get better.
“I’ve always said, ‘It’s not enough to come back next year, we need to come back better.’ Everyone needs to get better including myself, and that’s the goal between now and Thanksgiving next year.”