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***Second-seeded Roxbury enters Morris County Tournament with a solid track record and defensive mindset that should serve Gaels well, plus much more from Sean Reilly's Morris hoops notebook!

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***Kinnelon's girls hoops squad may have flown under the radar last winter but the Colts are now a team to watch with a veteran group as MCT gets underway. See much more from Morris County landscape in "Feature Articles"

***West Orange's wrestler Chris Morgan is very deserving SC/360 Fitness Athlete of the Week after copping ECT title. See "The Buzz"

West Essex's Gary Lombardi (21) drives past MKA's Josh Chery in Thursday's Essex County Tournament preliminary round action in Montclair. The Knights prevailed with a 64-58 victory and advance to the Round of 16 at East Orange. (Photo by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

West Essex Gets Hustle Points In The End
To Advance In Essex County Tournament
By Steve Tober

MONTCLAIR- With the game tied 58-all with under 40 seconds remaining, West Essex’s Gary Lombardi knew exactly what had to be done. After all, his team had hustled for more than 31 minutes of regulation in order to try and maintain a lead against a favored Montclair Kimberley Academy in Thursday afternoon’s Essex County Tournament preliminary round action.

He wasn’t going to let this one slip away, not now.

Lombardi, who had hit five 3-pointers, drove the baseline, drew a foul and then hit two free throws with 31.9 seconds remaining to help the Knights retain a lead (60-58) they had held since late in the third quarter before the Cougars finally stormed back to tie matters on a Josh Chery tip-in with 55 seconds still showing in a frenetic fourth quarter.

In the end, West Essex would make the defensive stops, hit its free throws, including two clutch ones from Cooper Salmon for a 4-point lead with 13.2 seconds left as the 18th-seeded Knights hung on for a pulsating 64-58 win over the 15th-seeded Cougars in a very entertaining prelim # 3 as the ECT committee calls it.

For the second straight season, West Essex (12-3) has won two games in the ‘Play-In’ bracket, and it has reached the Round of 16 in the ECT. The Knights will travel to meet second-seeded East Orange on Saturday.

But, for the moment, it is a chance to savor a hard-earned victory for a team from the Super Essex Conference’s fourth division, the Independence, against a team from the second-best division, the Liberty.

Lombardi, the impressive 6-foot-1 senior swingman, scored a game-high 26 points, including a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter when West Essex went from trailing, 39-37, with 2:53 left to suddenly building a 48-39 lead with just under a minute to go in the stanza.

And, even after picking up a technical foul with his team leading, 57-52, with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, Lombardi found his composure again and along with hustling fellow senior point guard Jon Agolia (10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) made the plays down the stretch that helped make the difference in the end.

“I’m not sure what Gary said to draw a technical foul, but he knows he’s a guy we always count on and he’s been doing what we need for a few years now, and he quickly regained his composure and made a couple of more big plays down the stretch to help us earn the victory,” said West Essex head coach Billy Humes. “We’re very happy with this win against a good MKA team and our kids simply battled and persevered right to the end.”

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