HILLSIDE – How confident was talented Irvington senior guard Karriem Thomas before Monday’s tipoff vs. the host Comets?
“We knew we were going to win the game,” Thomas said moments after Irvington did just that. “Just play hard and show no mercy.”
That’s exactly what the visiting Blue Knights did, led by Thomas and his game-high 20 points, as the Irvington boys’ basketball team rolled to a more-than-convincing 71-49 triumph over Hillside in Monday’s 57th annual Joe Silver Tournament championship game played at Hillside High School.
In a battle of undefeated teams, Irvington went on a 12-0 run bridging the end of the first quarter to midway through the second to take the lead for good. The Blue Knights previously led three times and Hillside twice, in addition to the game being tied on four separate occasions, in a highly-competitive first eight minutes.
However, once the second quarter began Irvington stepped its game up a notch and then some. Seniors Moses Pierre and Kymani Dunbar were getting above the rim and making Hillside pay, combining for all 12 of Irvington’s second quarter points as the Blue Knights increased their lead to 27-18 at intermission.
Then Thomas began the second half with one of his steal-and-layup combinations that had the Comets scurrying for much of the third and fourth quarters. Thomas scored 10 of his points in the third period, which included two layups after steals, two other inside baskets and two of his three free throws.
“The second half was just the same, play hard, play as hard as we can,” Thomas said.
Irvington, which repeated as Joe Silver Tournament champions, improved to 4-0. The Blue Knights clearly displayed an effort that would have them in the discussion as one of the favorites in North 2, Group 3.
Hillside, which was seeking its first 5-0 start since the 2001-2002 season and was 4-0 for the first time since 2013-2014, fell to 4-1.
After Irvington went up by 13 for the first time at 37-24 midway through the third quarter, a three-point field goal from the right side by sophomore Jakhye McLean, his only points, pulled Hillside to within 10 again at 37-27.
Within a blink of an eye Irvington then produced three consecutive layups to go up by 16 for the first time at 43-27.
“Hitting the boards and trying to out-rebound them was what we wanted to do, to get our fastbreak going,” said Moses, who finished with 16 points.
Irvington outscored Hillside 24-12 in the third quarter to, essentially, put the game away.
One strategy that was successfully checked off was limiting Hillside’s skilled senior guard Kalleem Lambert, who scored 10 points, but was only able to hit two jump shots.
“We tried to take him out of the game,” Irvington head coach Elias Brantley said. “Our guards, on the defensive end, forced a lot of turnovers. It doesn’t always work, but we were very athletic today.”
Lambert did earn his team’s MVP plaque. That same honor for Irvington was granted to its entire starting five, which included Thomas, Pierre, Dunbar, senior Nazameir Brooks and senior Dezlyn Sebastien.
Hillside took its first lead at 6-4 on an inside basket by senior Yasir Holley and its second and final at 13-10 on a three-point play made by senior Kamaal Cox as he scored inside on a putback, was fouled, and then made the ensuing free throw.
For Cox, who came in off the bench, those were his only points. However, he did a great job on the boards, offensively and defensively, and led Hillside with 13 rebounds, seven on defense and six on offense. Cox also had three blocked shots.
“He did a heck of a job,” Hillside first-year head coach Lorenzo Williams said. “Lambert also plays a great game.”
Thomas tied the game for the fourth and final time at 13-13 with his second of three three-pointers and then gave Irvington the lead for good by scoring the final points of the third quarter to put the Blue Knights up 15-13.
Hillside did not score until there was 4:57 left in the first quarter and did not score its first points of the second quarter until there was just 3:49 remaining until halftime.
“Irvington deserves a lot of credit for the great chemistry it had,” Williams said. “We showed a lot of fight, but I think being 4-0 and being in the finals of our own tournament for the first time in a while might have been a bit overwhelming.
“After our first four games, which we won in convincing fashion, we met our match. Irvington didn’t stop.
“Overall I’m proud of the way we fought and made it to the finals. Now next year we can try and win it.”
Hillside will continue to go after the Union County Conference’s Sky Division crown. With two games each against the other six teams in the division the Comets are off to a good start with a 69-51 triumph at home over division foe Dayton back on Opening Night, Dec. 20.
“That’s our next goal to try to win our conference,” Williams said.
57TH ANNUAL JOE SILVER TOURNAMENT
AT HILLSIDE HIGH SCHOOL
MONDAY, DEC. 30:
FIRST PLACE: Irvington 71, Hillside 49
THIRD PLACE: East Orange Campus 96, Newark Tech 80
FIFTH PLACE: Dickinson 56, Orange 48
SEVENTH PLACE: Marion P. Thomas defeated Sinai Academy
57TH ANNUAL JOE SILVER TOURNAMENT AT HILLSIDE
Irvington (4-0) 15 12 24 20 – 71
Hillside (4-1) 13 05 12 19 – 49
IRVINGTON BLUE KNIGHTS (71):
5-JhaZaire Head, junior, 0-1-2-5
2-Shawn Bessellieu, senior, 2-0-0-4
4-Kymani Dunbar, senior, 4-1-2-13
0-Nazameir Brooks, senior, 1-0-3-5
13-Moses Pierre, senior, 8-0-0-16
1-Karriem Thomas, senior, 4-3-3-20
3-Dezlyn Sebastien, senior, 3-0-0-6
10-Kyle Benson, senior, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Brooks, Thomas,
Sebastien, Dunbar, Pierre.
HILLSIDE COMETS (49):
4-Kareem Irby, junior, 1-0-1-3
5-Yasir Holley, senior, 3-0-0-6
10-Elijah Fletcher, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
2-Kalleem Lambert, senior, 2-0-8-12
1-Joseph Hinton, senior, 2-1-3-10
15-Jakhye McLean, sophomore, 0-1-0-3
0-Jaheim Lewis, junior, 2-0-0-4
3-Ivon Bennett, senior, 1-0-0-2
11-Akugbe Omokaro, senior, 1-0-0-2
23-Kamaal Cox, senior, 1-0-1-3
Starters: McLean, Holley,
Lambert, Lewis, Hinton.
57TH ANNUAL JOE SILVER TOURNAMENT
AT HILLSIDE HIGH SCHOOL
THURSDAY, DEC. 26:
East Orange Campus 58, Dickinson 37
Irvington 83, Marion P. Thomas 60
Newark Tech 75, Orange 74
Hillside 72, Sinai Academy 63
FRIDAY, DEC. 27:
Consolation: Dickinson 81, Marion P. Thomas 58
Consolation: Orange defeated Sinai Academy
Semifinal: Irvington 58, East Orange 53
Semifinal: Hillside 63, Newark Tech 62