Montague's big 3rd quarter propels AC into CAL semifinal

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ATLANTIC CITY - If this year's postseason road leads to another Cape-Atlantic League championship for the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team, the Vikings can thank Jah-leem Montague for pointing the way.

Montague scored all but two of his team’s 18 third-quarter points, helping the Vikings survive a mild scare from Egg Harbor Township, 68-55, in a Cape-Atlantic League quarterfinal playoff game on Friday, Feb. 15.

“Our coach (Gene Allen) was disappointed in our defense in the second quarter,” said Montague, who finished with a team-high 20 points. “We decided in the locker room that we needed to turn it up on defense, and also get the big men the ball.”

EHT’s outstanding senior forward, Khari Harley, scored a game-high 32 points to keep the Eagles within striking distance. Trey Jones added 13 for the Eagles.

Atlantic City, which has won 29 straight games against Cape-Atlantic League opponents, now gets a rematch with close rival Holy Spirit in a CAL tournament semifinal game on Tuesday night, Feb. 19, at Hammonton High School.

Holy Spirit (15-8) reached the semifinal round with a 51-45 win over Wildwood Catholic on Friday.

Atlantic City (20-1), the top seed in the eight-team CAL tournament, jumped all over eighth-seeded EHT early, leading by 20 at one point, but the Eagles used a 14-2 run to cut the lead to five points at the half. Harley capped a run of 10 unanswered points with a pull-up jumper in the lane just before the halftime buzzer.

Montague, a rangy 6-8 senior, opened the second half with an emphatic slam-dunk off a pass from Dennis White. He continued to dominate in the third quarter, grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring his team’s first 14 points. In fact, the only shots he missed were two foul shots, and the only other points the Vikings scored in the quarter came on a bucket by Ga’briel Chandler off a pass from Montague.

“In the first half, we saw that when I was opposite the ball, the other team was slacking off me, so we decided to exploit that more, and throw me more lobs, drive and get me the ball more,” Montague said.

“He hurt us,” EHT coach George McNally said of Montague. “We were a little sloppy in some of our rotations in our zone defense. That hurts, because we got them to back off defensively like we needed. But you’ve got to get stops, that’s the key.”

Montague’s third-quarter surge propelled Atlantic City to a 13-point lead, but the Eagles (12-12) didn’t cave in. They pulled to within six points on a 3-point shot by Harley with 6:29 left in the game, but could get no closer.

“I thought our kids showed a lot of heart,” McNally said. “We were just so shaky in the beginning, which is so disappointing, because this is an experienced group, and they’ve played Atlantic City three times, they know what the pressure’s going to be.”

For Atlantic City, now it’s on to a very familiar opponent: Holy Spirit. The Vikings won two previous meetings between the teams, most recently a 54-47 victory on Feb. 12 that wasn’t decided until the final minute.

“I’m looking forward to that,” Montague said of the rematch. “It should be a fun game.”

Middle Township (18-4) will play St. Augustine Prep (20-3) in the other boys semifinal. The championship game will be played on Saturday, Feb. 23, at Richard Stockton College.

Last year, Atlantic City’s CAL championship sparked a long postseason run that culminated in a state Group IV title. The Vikings are the top seed in the South bracket of that tournament, which begins Feb. 25.

“As long as we stay together and stay as a family, I believe we can pull through any atmosphere,” Montague said.

Egg Harbor Township will also continue its season in the NJSIAA Group IV tournament. The Eagles are the 10th seed and will travel to Triton for a first-round game.

McNally said his senior-laden team, led by Harley and Jones, has a “lot of basketball left in them.”

“I’d love to see these guys (Atlantic City) again,” he said. “Trey and Khari are two tremendous players for us. Trey plays with such heart. They’re good kids, they work hard, and they want to keep playing. That’s the key.”

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