CEDAR GROVE - The Cedar Grove Boys basketball team has hit a slump at an inopportune time after a  59-43 loss to Montclair Kimberly Academy gives the team their fifth defeat in the last six games.

“[MKA]  did a great job of amping up the energy in the third quarter and we didn’t respond well back to it. They did a great job making adjustments at half time and we didn’t do a good job of adjusting to them,” said Cedar Grove Head Coach TJ Jones.

The Panthers held a five-point lead heading into the third quarter at 22-17. In the second meeting of the season between the two teams which eerily mimicked the previous matchup, Cedar Grove knew they would need a solid second half effort to roll onward to victory.

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“The second half they crashed the boards, the ball didn’t bounce our way sometimes, we missed assignments some times and then the second chances came and they went on a big run and we don’t have the firepower to match it,” said Jones.

Montclair Kimberly proceeded to dominate the third quarter against the Panthers. Utilizing their size and shooting ability, MKA went on a 23 to six scoring run to take a seemingly insurmountable lead against Cedar Grove.

“They’re a great shooting team and they handle the ball pretty well so when you give them second chance opportunities and when you do your job, get a stop and give them back the ball it’s detrimental because they just shoot the ball that well,” Jones said.

Cedar Grove attempted to make a comeback in the fourth quarter utilizing a full-court press defense. Their desperation attempt fell on deaf ears as MKA’s impressive passing ultimately controlled the possession and pace of the game en route to the victory.

The loss for the Panthers is particularly disheartening after a solid first half effort. In the first quarter Alex Michalski staked Cedar Grove to a 13-7 lead by netting eight first quarter points for the squad. He finished the contest with 10 points, which was a complete turnaround from the first meeting where he was held scoreless.

“Last time we played MKA he had a real rough time…He’s been shooting the ball much better, he’s our shooter, we don’t have many of them so when he is on in the first quarter, scoring well, and we can get him open looks we feed him,” said Jones.

Cedar Grove continued their solid play into the second frame tacking on nine additional points.  Chris Wynne and Mike Pronesti led the charge for the group from both sides of the court. The tenacity on the defensive side proved it would be a hard fought win between whoever came out on top.

“We had a good first half, we defended at a high level and didn’t give up any offensive rebounds…that’s always a struggle of ours and if we do a good job of marking guys, rebounding the ball and limiting second chance opportunities we normally do ok.”

While the end result was not what Cedar Grove expected, the team will look to correct some fundamentals as the State Tournament looms just a few short weeks away. Even though the Panthers currently stand at 9-11 on the year, they have clinched themselves a State Playoff birth already due to strength of schedule. Regardless of their guarantee of postseason play, the team will look to correct their mistakes and build confidence heading into the playoffs.

 “We talked about it all year about playing our best basketball come February and we started to do that the first four games in a row where we put four quarters together and now we’re struggling to do that…We have to continue to work on the little things, not turning the ball over, rebound the ball and putting four quarters together,” said Jones.