A.C. throttles past Lenape to win second straight SJ crown

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ATLANTIC CITY – It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish – and the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team might be the best finishers seen around these parts in a long, long time.

The Vikings overcame a very sluggish start to beat Lenape, 51-40, Monday to claim their second straight South Jersey Group IV championship. They will now face Group IV Central champion East Brunswick Wednesday at Egg Harbor Township High School (6 p.m.) in a state semifinal -- one win away from playing for their second consecutive Group IV state title.

Junior Dennis White scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter, punctuating the win with a breakaway slam.

“If we’re down, we just have another gear we can go to,” White said. “We just play really intense. We’re a second-half team. We just pick up the defense in the second half.”

The top-seeded Vikings (27-1) had to climb out of a 10-0 hole to start Monday’s game. They were held without a field goal until the last minute of the first quarter, missing nine shots in the process, and trailed 14-4 after one period.

“I just didn’t think we were there mentally at first,” said coach Gene Allen. “They (Lenape) came out really sharp, and precise. They executed, and we didn’t.”

“We knew they were going to come out aggressive and ready to play, and we didn’t match their intensity,” said senior Dayshawn Reynolds, who scored 12 points in the win. “It was just time to go. A little bit later than that, and it could have gotten really ugly. When it was time to go, everybody just kicked up and came together.”

“To their credit, they never panicked,” Allen said of the sluggish start. “We have a motto: ‘Five as One.’ They stayed with the Five as One, and we were fortunate to get out of here with a victory tonight.”

Tabu Gaither led Lenape (25-4) with eight points. Cole Moody and Sawyer Hand each scored six.

The Vikings seem to operate in reverse: their offense fuels their defensive intensity. Freshman Lamar Thomas hit a pair of huge 3-pointers in the second quarter to help the Vikings get back in the game. His second 3-pointer, with 2:31 left in the half, gave Atlantic City its first lead of the game.

“Lamar hitting those couple shots in the second quarter gave us the impetus to get back in the game,” Allen said.

On cue, the Vikings turned up the heat in the third quarter. Their relentless ball-hawking pressure forced a gaggle of turnovers and fueled their fast break. And, did we mention how good the Vikings are at finishing plays on the break?

After Lenape’s Moody tied the game at 25, the Vikings scored six straight points on a pair of Reynolds baskets and a put-back by White, then held the ball for the last 2:20 of the third quarter.

They opened up the lead in the fourth quarter as White took over the game, scoring eight of his team’s first nine points in the frame.

“I got on him at halftime, because I didn’t think he was being as aggressive as we need him to be,” Allen said of White, who picked up his third foul before halftime. "He definitely gave us a big lift in the second half."

“I wish we could play all four quarters strong, just 'Atlantic City basketball,' but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way,” Reynolds said. “But these guys know, it’s all or nothing now. You lose, you go home. I’m pretty sure nobody in our locker room wants to go home right now.”

Tickets for Wednesday’s state Group IV semifinal at EHT will go on sale at noon Tuesday, March 5, at Atlantic City High School.

The state Group IV final is scheduled for March 10 at Rutgers University.

Callahan recognized: The crowd saluted Atlantic City High School swimmer Colleen Callahan, who won two state individual championships at the Meet of Champions Sunday at the Gloucester Institute of Technology. Callahan is the first girls swimmer in state history to win four championships each in two events and win eight straight individual state titles.

 


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