by Andrew Garda
The Immaculate Conception girls basketball team improved to 6-3 on the season Tuesday night with a dominating 66-46 win over division rival Millburn. The victory continued their undefeated season in the Liberty Division, bringing their record to 4-0.
Despite the early success, head coach Joe Whalen feels his team is a work in progress.
“It’s been a little up and down,” he said after the win on Jan. 8. “We’re getting used to each other.”
While the margin of victory was significant, the game started out much tighter, with Millburn actually leading by one point after the opening eight minutes.
Junior guard Nasira Williams led the Lions in scoring for the first quarter, totaling seven points. Williams also did a nice job moving the ball around the floor, and passing to her teammates.
But Millburn’s Leda Stoneberry hit a pair of shots from the perimeter while Kate Hadrawski and Gina Saggio each contributed four points to keep the Millers just ahead of Immaculate.
“You could almost tell by our warmup we were going to start slowly,” Whalen said. “We need to work on that, we need to work on coming out of the gate strong. We had a couple of games this year where we got down big in the first quarter and then it’s uphill trying to get back after that.”
Immaculate got going in the second quarter, though, outscoring Millburn 27-8 over the course of the period, with senior guards Jordan Hill and Taylor Williams scoring 10 points and Nasira Williams accumulating at least four assists.
Freshman Niyah Whitten also had a strong second quarter, scoring twice, both off steals.
She finished the night with seven points.
“We’re pleased with that and a lot of her baskets were running the floor, hustle,” Whalen said. “And she took some shots, which is good for a freshman. She’s getting some minutes, getting some experience, so we’re pleased with that.”
By the time the half was over, Immaculate had a commanding 44-26 lead and Millburn was on their heels.
As the second half began, the Lions slowed down a little bit, but after Millburn scored three points off a bucket and a foul, ICHS went on an 11-2 run and built up a 57-30 lead.
With the game well in hand at that point, Whalen had his team throttle back the offense completely.
“[Millburn] played hard. I give them a lot of credit, but you want to be a sportsman,” Whalen said. “I told the girls, when we’re playing in a county championship or a state championship, you want other teams to root for you. You don’t want people to say oh those are the girls who aren’t sportsmanlike.”
Whalen’s team only scored six points in the final frame, though Millburn closed the gap a little with 16 points of their own.
“We just got a little sloppy in our defense there in the fourth quarter,” said Whalen. “They scored 16 points, which is unacceptable. And my hat’s off to [Millburn], they played hard right to the end, they were looking to steal the ball at half court right at the end.”
While Millburn stayed tenacious until the final buzzer, the large lead still gave Whalen an opportunity to put in some players off the bench.
“Everybody works hard in practice, everybody deserves a chance to play. And sometimes in games like this, you want to play the game within the game. It’s not always just up and down to the floor looking to score. You slow it down, you try to play without shooting threes, without going into transition and I think that we did a good job of that.”
The team also did a nice job rebounding the ball. While final numbers were not available at press time, the Lions had somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 rebounds in the first half alone. That shut down Millburn’s opportunities for second chance baskets, while giving ICHS second and third shots of their own on offense.
“I was pleased with the rebounding because we kind of made that a point of emphasis,” Whalen said. “Given our size advantage and strength and speed, we probably should dominate on the boards. And we did.”
Whalen now has a few days to fine tune his team before they travel to Orange on Jan. 12 before returning to division play at home against Newark Collegiate on Jan. 15.