Immaculate senior Azatah Lawrence unleashes a three-point shot against Marist during the NJSIAA North Jersey Non-Public B quarterfinals.

by Andrew Garda

BAYONNE — The Immaculate Conception High School girls basketball team rode a massive second quarter and held off a surge in the third by Marist, hanging on for a 64-57 win in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Non-Public B Tournament on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

Sixth-seeded ICHS now faces No. 7-seeded Morris Catholic in the semifinals at Mount St. Dominic on Saturday, March 7, at noon.

Marist, the 3-seed, let ICHS run out to a 10-3 lead in the first four minutes, as Bukky Akinsola, Azatah Lawrence and Nasira Williams found a lot of room to score and Immaculate generated multiple turnovers.

The Knights settled down and evened things up at 10 with 2:35 left in the first, and the two teams traded the lead a few times, knotting things up at 16 apiece by the end of the quarter.

The second quarter saw Immaculate come out and dominate the Knights, though, scoring 20 points with their quick transitions while killing Marist with tough defense, holding them to just seven points.

By halftime, five different Lions accounted for baskets, and ICHS led 36-23.

For head coach James Kreie, this is a feature, not a bug.

“Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of kids that could do a lot of different things,” he said after the win. “You know, we don’t have [all] the same player. We’re eight to ten deep, each can shoot the three. That’s not normal.”

The Knights represent a proud program though, and the school is closing at the end of the year. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that they came out hard in the second half, pressing the Lions at both ends, generating turnovers and disrupting Immaculate at every turn.

That resulted in a 10-2 Knights run spanning four minutes, until Kreie called a time out to settle his team down.

It only slowed Marist down a little, and they added five points to their total before the end of the third which saw Immaculate’s lead down to only to points, 46-44.

Facing a team which was pressing them at every opportunity, Kreie pulled his team around him on the sideline. He had just one message for them.

“We’ve got to get back to doing what we do well,” he said he had told the Lions. “Shooting the basketball, running offense and breaking the press.”

Immaculate’s Olivia Wooten moves the ball up the court against Marist during the NJSIAA North Jersey Non-Public B quarterfinals. Wooten hit two key 3-point shots late in the game to help secure the win.

That last part was key, as Immaculate couldn’t let Marist continue to box them into their own end. The problem was, nobody had done this to the Lions before.

“I mean, this is the first team that we played all year that’s been able to maintain a press against us,” he explained. “So we’re not used to that. Eventually we kind of we figured it out. We started passing the basketball little bit faster than normal. Then we had transition layups and transition threes which is what we are built on.”

While Marist kept trying to contain Immaculate, the Lions kept finding lanes to move the ball so they could transition out of their own end.

Williams opened up a little breathing room with a key 3-point shot, followed by Akinsola adding a basket.

Marist closed the gap with a three of their own, matched by Akinsola’s own. Then Olivia Wooten knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to give the Lions a 57-49 lead with just under five minutes left.

Tahirah Kelley added another 3-point shot to make it 59-51 with 2:51 left and Marist had to start fouling.

The Lions would close out the game hitting four out of five shots from the charity stripe, keeping Marist at arm’s length for the win.

The Lions have always been able to hit 3-point shots, making them a team who is hard to catch when it’s hot. Kreie said it was more than that on Thursday. Every member of the tea stepped up.

ICHS’ Bukky Akinsola goes up for a basket during Immaculate’s 64-57 win over Marist on March 5.

“Sydney [Briscoe] pulled down major rebounds. Tahirah making clutch shots. Nas and Azatah got us going, Nas ended the game with free throws. Olivia hit that big three, two of them, I believe, in both corners. Bukky started the game off and dictated how we were going to play. Niyah stepped in and had major minutes. Every single kid did their role.”

At the end of the game, Lawrence had racked up a double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Kelley and Williams each had 13 points, Akinsola had 12, with Wooten and Briscoe scoring 8 and 2 points respectively. Briscoe and Akinsola each had 6 rebounds, while Williams finished with 4.

Most notably, the team had 14 steals, many of them resulting in points.

Now they face another team which upended a higher seeded team in the quarterfinal round, as Morris Catholic beat No. 2-seeded Villa Walsh 59-46.

If they get past them, it’s likely top-seeded Saddle River Day will be waiting for them in the finals next Wednesday.