Montgomery High School boys basketball coach Kris Grundy warned his team before Tuesday’s game with Hillsborough:
“We’re definitely going to get their best effort.”
How right he was.
Coming off a surprising home loss to Watchung Hills in Friday’s opener, Hillsborough bounced back with a dynamite effort, firing on all cylinders to hand border rival Montgomery a 53-30 defeat.
“They played great,” Grundy said. “I was watching film of the Watchung Hills game over and over and I told my coaches, ‘That’s not the Hillsborough we played over the summer.’
“They had something to prove, so they came out and put it on us.”
Senior forward Jon Gregory and junior forward Matt Hornich paced a balanced Raiders effort with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Hillsborough posted a 24-17 edge on the glass, recorded seven steals and assisted 16 of its 24 field goals.
“Friday we came out and thought we were better than we actually were,” Hornich said. “In scrimmages we were taking it to everybody, and we thought that would carry over into the game and it didn’t.
“The past two days in practice our attitude really changed. We weren’t going to let ourselves start 0-2.”
Montgomery (1-1) got 14 points and nine rebounds from 6-foot-8 senior center Mike Rubayo and 11 points by junior wing Justin Kovacevich. The Cougars held their own early, feeding Rubayo and trailing just 14-13 midway through the second quarter.
Then the big man went to the bench with two fouls and Hillsborough pulled the rug out. The Raiders finished the half on a 7-2 run and opened the third quarter with a 10-0 spree. Hornich scored the first eight points after the break as the Raiders pushed the ball at every opportunity.
“In the locker room at halftime, we said, ‘We need to own the defensive glass,’ and I thought we did that,” Hillsborough coach Ian Progin said.
Playing its standard 2-3 zone to near-perfection, Hillsborough’s length and quickness made life difficult for Montgomery’s backcourt.
“They’re a talented team and they have some great players,” Hornich said of the Cougars. “To hold them to 30, that’s impressive.”
Junior forward Jalen Parham added seven points, seven rebounds and five assists for Hillsborough, and senior guard Nick Alaimo chipped in six points and five boards.
“I was very disappointed in the Watchung game — no disrespect to them (Watchung) because they played very well,” Progin said. “This was important for us to respond and play well. I was glad to see we played well.”
They played better than well. This was a statement performance.
“This is what we need to do game-in and game-out,” Hornich said. “We have the talent to do it. We have the talent to make a run. We can do a lot of things with this team.”