GLOUCESTER — Despite playing a strong defensive first half played at its pace, the Reading High boys basketball team couldn’t hit enough shots in the second half while seemingly Gloucester lived at the free throw line.
So, No. 5 seed Gloucester was able to open up a double-digit lead in the third quarter with a strong inside game and continued to score enough in the fourth quarter to emerge with a 58-47 victory over No. 13 Reading in a Division 2 North quarterfinal game at Gloucester High on Sunday.
With the win Gloucester (16-6) advances to the semifinal round against top-seeded Belmont on Tuesday at Belmont, while Reading had its season end with a final overall record of 11-11.
The Fisherman were led offensively by 6-3 center Marcus Montagnino, who led all scorers with 19 points, while Ben Oliver added 16 and Marc Smith had 10 points. What also made a big difference was Gloucester’s ability to work the ball inside and get to the free throw line, where it was 23-for-30 while Reading was just four-for-seven from the charity stripe.
“We did a good job working the ball inside, drawing fouls, and getting to the free throw line,” said Gloucester coach Khris Silveria.
“We had three players score in double figures, which is what we do.”
The Rockets did get a great effort from Jovan Nortelus, who in his final high school basketball game finished with a team-high 16 points, while senior Owen Mulvey hit three 3-pointers for nine points. But the Rockets were outrebounded, missed several shots despite getting good looks, and couldn’t draw fouls and get to the free throw line nearly as often as Gloucester did.
“They took the lead and then got to the foul line much more often in the second quarter and we didn’t,” said Reading coach Paul Morrissey. “That was a big difference, and helped them still lead at halftime (23-22). Then they hit some shots in the third quarter and we got into foul trouble. Their three top scorers really played a great game for them.”
The Rockets got off to a good start when Nortelus hit two shots while Taylor Marchant drained a 3-pointer and also converted a conventional three-point play, to give Reading a 10-6 lead late in the first quarter.
But Marc Smith provided a spark for the Fishermen to come back by hitting three shots, including a 3-pointer and a three-point play of his own. This gave Gloucester a one-point lead (14-13) by the end of the first quarter.
The Rockets played great defense and held Gloucester without a basket in the entire second quarter but the Fishermen made nine free throws.
For Reading, Mulvey sank two 3-pointers while Matt Sannella also made one from distance leaving Gloucester ahead 23-22 by halftime.
“We didn’t turn the ball over much in the first half,” said Morrissey. “Then in the third quarter we turned it over more often and a few of our kids got into foul trouble. That helped (Gloucester) take a lead in the third quarter.”
The Fishermen really put their offense together in the third quarter with dribble penetration while finishing at the rim or finding open shooters.
They outscored Reading 22-15 and held as much as an 11-point lead (45-34) late in the quarter.
Mulvey hit another three to help the Rockets close the quarter down by eight (45-37).
“That was big in the third quarter, and the key there was getting our 3-2 defense working,” said Silveria. “We rely on Marcus (Montag-nino) a lot for scoring, and he was able to get the ball down low and score. That opened up our outside shooters. Then we played great defense in the fourth quarter and preventing Reading from getting good looks.”
Marcus Montagnino was huge during this stretch. The junior center hit three shots from in low, while Loiver and James Nelson also scored, to key a big 13-5 run that extended Gloucester’s lead.
To their credit the Rockets didn’t quit. Senior center Pat Conroy scored all six of his points in the final quarter, and two early baskets allowed Reading to close to 47-41 with five minutes left in the contest.
But then Oliver responded for Gloucester by draining a killer 3-pointer. Then Matt Montagnino added a short jumper to spark a 6-1 run that extended Gloucester’s lead back to 11 points (53-42) with three minutes remaining.
Reading’s press was bothersome to Gloucester and forced some turnovers. Nortelus and Conroy answered back with baskets that briefly cut Reading’s deficit back down to six points at 53-47 with a minute remaining.
But the Rockets failed to score again, as Gloucester hit five free throws in the final minute to put the game safely away.
Despite the season-ending loss, Morrissey still came away proud of his team for the way it fought back from 4-8 at one point in the season. Reading not only qualified for the tournament, but even won a tournament game on the road for the first time since 2010. Reading’s quarterfinal appearance was its first since 2012.
“I felt we played a good game today but Gloucester played better than we did,” said Morrissey. “I love this group. They worked their tails off all season and they set the standard for future teams here to follow. I’m really proud of them.”