MHS boys hit stride at tourney time

Cougars top North Plainfield in SCT opener

By: Bob Nuse
   The Montgomery High boys’ basketball team appears to have picked the right time to be playing its best basketball of the season.
   After a 4-8 start, the Cougars have rebounded to win four of their last five games. Included in that streak was a 44-42 win at Bridgewater last Thursday, followed by a 63-33 win over North Plainfield in the opening round of the Somerset County Tournament on Saturday.
   "It’s been fun," said senior guard Chris Fischer, who scored a team-high 16 points in the win over North Plainfield on Saturday. "I’ve really enjoyed Coach (Kris) Grundy as a coach and the team has been great. We’ve had our struggles, but we seem to have things going now.
   "We had said earlier in the season that we were going to peak at the right time. We said we would peak at tournament time and give some teams a run for their money."
   Montgomery did a lot of things right to pull off the upset at Bridgewater. Two days later they were not quite as crisp in their win over North Plainfield, although they played well enough to win.
   "We try not to overlook things and we respect every opponent, but we’re definitely looking forward to getting back to playing Franklin," Fischer said. "The first game we didn’t play very well. The second game at our place we were in the game but they made a run. So we’re looking to play them again.
   "Bridgewater was a big win, especially because it was at their place. We just shot well and were able to win the game. We thought they might overlook us playing Plainfield the next day. We didn’t play as well today, but we were able to get the win."
   After falling behind, 5-3, against North Plainfield, the Cougars closed the first quarter with a 17-0 run to grab a 20-5 lead. The winless Canucks managed to get as close as nine early in the third quarter, thanks mainly to Montgomery missing 21 of 36 foul shots in the game, but a 12-6 run to end the quarter put the game out of reach.
   "This is my first experience with the county tournament," said Grundy, whose team improved to 8-9 heading into Monday night’s scheduled game with Princeton. "As a coaching staff, we kind of had an idea that a game like this might be this way in the first half. We had an emotional win on Thursday against Bridgewater. We had scrimmaged these guys before and I had told our guys, North Plainfield may have no wins, but they’re a tough team. They play in a tough conference.
   "I think our guys were overly confident going into the game and we answered the bell in the first quarter when it was 20-5. The second quarter was our worst by far. We went in at halftime and I let them know how poorly they were playing and the kids responded."
   Montgomery, as it has all year, used a solid defensive effort to pull away and set up another game with Franklin, a team it has lost to twice this season. The Cougars lost to Franklin, 54-39, the first time they met, then dropped a 53-49 decision last week.
   "As usual, our defense was very good," Grundy said. "We got after it in the second half better than we did in the first and we did well. The scary part for us as a coaching staff is we can’t miss 21 foul shots and expect to win on Monday or Tuesday. And we can’t miss as many layups as we did and expect to win."
   Montgomery faces a tough week with games against Princeton, Hillsborough (Tuesday), Immaculata (Thursday) and Franklin (Saturday). The Cougars need to win three of the four to qualify for the state tournament. Fischer, for one, feels like the team is coming together in time to pull off a big week.
   "Me, Chris Rogers and Dupree (Wade), we played together through middle school and into high school," Fischer said. "Overall, we are a young team, but I think we’re just starting to get a really good feel for each other. We’ve been able to mesh really well.
   "Coach Grundy’s first freshman team was our year, so there is really a special bond there. That was his first basketball coaching job and now this is his first varsity position. So we have a bond there."
   Fischer, who is looking at some Division III schools to possibly play football, would like to close out the season with some success. He was injured in the first quarter of the opening game of the football season, but did manage to return for the final three games.
   "Unfortunately, we lost all three games," Fischer said. "But I was able to come back and make a difference. Football is my No. 1 sport. I love football. So if I could come back and play even one game, I would have worked my butt off to even play just one."
   Now he’s trying to do the same for the basketball team, which is beginning to play its best.