BLOOMFIELD, NJ – Talk about getting your heart shattered on Valentine’s Day.
After Bloomfield rallied from a 14-point deficit to take a 6-point lead with three minutes to play, Montclair senior Charles Murphy hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to propel the Mounties past the Bengals 54-51 in an SEC Liberty Division boys varsity basketball contest on Thursday at Bloomfield High School.
Less than 24 hours prior, Bloomfield knocked off the number two team in the division, the Columbia Cougars 41-37 on Wednesday. The Bengals were hoping for back to back upset wins Thursday against Montclair, the top team in the division.
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Montclair began the game on a 7-0 run, but Bloomfield got right back in the game thanks to three-pointers from junior Vinny Torrisi and senior Michael Ramos. The Bengals then held their own against Montclair for the remainder of the first quarter, but the Mounties maintained a 13-8 lead after the first eight minutes.
Montclair’s offense exploded in the second quarter, outscoring Bloomfield 19-12 to take a 32-20 lead at halftime. The Mounties led by as many as 14 points.
“We talked nothing about strategy (at halftime), it was just about our approach, from every guy on the bench to everybody on the court – we needed to be more dialed in,” Bengals Head Coach Michael Passero told TAP. “This is Bloomfield versus Montclair – and it’s about pride, it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about man versus man and who wants to win this game. That was the message.”
Bloomfield heeded Passero’s advice and came out of the locker-room on fire with suffocating defense and great ball movement offensively led by a 10-0 run to begin the third quarter to slice the Montclair lead to only 2 points at 32-30. Bloomfield took the lead for the first time in the game, albeit briefly at 37-35 with 59 seconds to go in the quarter. Montclair closed out the quarter on a 5-0 run to regain the lead 40-37. The Bengals outscored the Mounties 17-8 in the frame.
Torrisi tied the game 40-40 for Bloomfield with the a three-pointer to begin the fourth quarter. After a Montclair bucket, senior Tochi Anyanwu nailed a three-pointer and Ramos converted a layup and foul shot to give the Bengals their biggest lead of the game at 6 points, 48-42, with 3:53 remaining.
Montclair rallied to tie the score at 51-51, but Torrisi missed a long-range field goal for Bloomfield, giving the ball back to the Mounties who called a timeout with 4.5 seconds remaining. After the inbound, Murphy hit a three-pointer as the clock struck zero for Bloomfield.
“What we were doing (in the first half) was fine, we just needed to execute better as we missed a ton of shots to start the game,” Passero said. “We had fine looks, but they just didn’t go in. But we came out and hit our first shot of the second half and that gave us a little bit of momentum.”
Ramos led Bloomfield with 16 points, senior Will Robinson and Torrisi had 9 points, Anyanwu had 8, and sophomore Vernon Lee had 7 and senior Kevin Mitchell had 2.
Murphy led Montclair with a game-high 23 points, including the game winner as time expired. Seniors Izaiah McPherson and Gabriel Schreiber chipped in 7 points apiece for the Mounties.
In their previous meeting this season, Montclair defeated Bloomfield 72-44 on January 17 in Montclair.
With the loss, the Bengals drop to 11-12 overall and 5-7 in the division, while the Mounties are 15-5 overall and 9-1 in the division, good for first place.
“Our guys play hard and I think that moving forward, I really believe that we can play with anybody and I don’t know how many teams want to play us,” Passero explained. “I think our guys have proven enough that anybody that plays us, it will be a tough challenge for them, and we’ll make it a game.”
Next week, the Bengals entertain Nutley on Tuesday, February 19, 7 pm at Bloomfield High School where the senior boys will be honored prior to their final regular season home game.
“Senior night will be a great night, I hope everybody comes out because our seniors deserve it,” said Passero. “They’ve been such a big part of the program for the last four years. They’ve been a part of more than 60 wins togethers, plus the sectionals plus the conference championship. This year, we’ve had our ups and down, but they still have a lot to be proud of, and hopefully on Tuesday we can honor them well and get a W at the same time.”
The Bengal boys are on the road for the first-round of the NJSIAA State Tournament on Monday, February 25, 6 pm against Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro.
Bloomfield High School hosts the Group II State Semifinals on Wednesday, March 6 at 5 pm.
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