NORTH CALDWELL, NJ - The West Essex boys’ basketball team battled with the Mendham Minute men for 38 minutes on Thursday night at West Essex High School, but ultimately lost the game, 52-47.
With the loss, the Knights fall to 15-6 on the season, with just three more games to go before their first round matchup against Roxbury in the North 2, Group 3 NJSIAA Tournament on March 3.
“It was a tough game between two good teams and I though both teams played pretty well,” said West Essex Coach Bill Humes. “We’ve got to eliminate some of the bad decisions on the offensive end. There were a couple of bad shots that we took that were hand in the face that we shouldn’t have taken.”
The teams fought back and forth for every inch during the first three quarters, as neither was able to pull ahead. However, after entering the fourth quarter down by three points at 33-30 the Knights surrendered a seven-point run to the Minutemen and found themselves down, 40-30 just two minutes into the quarter.
The Knights battled back, bringing the game to a 50-47 score with just over a second to go in the game, but could not find a way to pull ahead.
“They are mentally tough kids,” Humes said. “They’re a senior group. That’s what they should do. Had we shot at a higher percentage, probably close to more like we usually do, we’re probably catching them and going up. They’re a good defensive team.”
Senior Jon Agolia led the way offensively for the Knights as he racked up 26 points in the match, while posting shooting percentages of 70 percent from the field and 55 percent from beyond the 3-point.
He made several key plays in the game including a two-point buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter to tie the game at, 11-11.
Postgame, Agolia said that despite the final score, the game was a good test for his team and a preview of a team that they may face late in the NJSIAA Tournament.
“It was going to be a big game,” Agolia said “They’re in our section, the three seed. We can possibly face them again in the semi’s so it’s a good look to see how we’ve got to play.”
The Knights were without the services of their third leading point scorer on Thursday, as senior Luke Magliaro was sidelined with an injury. This season, Magliaro has scored a total of 123 points, while averaging 1.6 3-pointers a game.
The players and coaching staff said that Magliaro was missed on the court in this game, but they are glad that he will return well in time for the State Tournament.
“He’s one of our best shooters on the team, so we were missing him,” Agolia said.
However, Humes stressed that his team needs to find a way to win, no matter who is or isn’t in the lineup if they want to be successful at the NJSIAA Tournament.
“He does a lot of good things for us that you can’t replace,” Humes said. “It makes a difference. We’ve got to be able to adjust if a guy is out. We’ve got to be able to replace him somehow.”
With the win, the Minutemen improve to 16-5 this season as they prepare for the postseason.
The Knights will have three more games to prepare for the tournament, as they will travel to North 13th Street Tech and Johnson on Monday and Tuesday, before hosting Lakeland on Feb. 26.