After losing its first meeting with DePaul Catholic and being dropped from MSG Varsity's rankings, Immaculate Heart went on an eight-game winning streak that it refused to see halted by the Spartans on Thursday night.
With MSG Varsity cameras in the building and a packed house on hand, the Blue Eagles showed why they belong ranked among the state’s elite, holding off DePaul down the stretch to take a big, 48-45 win.
"Just what I expected, hard fought with some tenacious defense. They present some tremendous matchup problems for us but we played very well tonight,” Immaculate Heart head coach Steve Silver said. “(Jade) Walker is dominant in the post and so quick off the dribble, it was important we slowed her down. You’re certainly not going to stop her.”
DePaul’s force on the block still led all scorers with 26 points and eight rebounds, but was stymied down the stretch and missed a big free throw with the game in the balance during the final moments.
The Blue Eagles were lucky to have built themselves a lead with a strong third quarter because the Spartans began to chip away in the fourth, aided by some Immaculate Heart turnovers, and with a couple minutes left it was a one-possession game.
“Yeah, it was definitely closer than we wanted it to be in the end,” Immaculate Heart’s leading scorer Samantha Wilkes smiled. “We let them back in but we didn’t panic, it was important for us to win a tough game like this and keep the win streak alive.”
Wilkes and fellow star Raquel Scott shined with college coaches looking on from the stands; the duo accounted for 34 of the team’s 48 points and 14 of 30 total rebounds. With DePaul determined to stop the entry pass to Scott, it became imperative that Wilkes was aggressive on the perimeter and the junior ignited the offense with her strong drives and smart decision-making.
“She had a great game and we really needed it,” Silver said of Wilkes. “We were looking for our guards to take people off the dribble and create. Attacking the rim was the number one thing on the board before the game and I thought Sammy did a fantastic job of that.”
“When they came out in man I was so happy because I knew it was going to be a driving game,” Wilkes explained. “I knew that I could get into the lane and to the foul line so I really wanted the ball in my hands tonight.”
The strong showing not only moves the Blue Eagles to an impressive 17-2 on the year, but also gives Silver’s team a good confidence boost heading into the home stretch.
With a Passaic County tournament and brutal Non-Public A state tournament draw ahead, each win is becoming increasingly more important, especially when you knock off tough opponents.
“We always say it’s a marathon not a sprint, but now we’re at the sprint part,” said Silver. “We’re just going to continue to try to improve on our weaknesses and hopefully we have a lot of good basketball left in us."