CHESTER, Pa. – Coach Gene Allen of the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team saw a familiar sight Saturday night.
Players increased their defensive intensity. They created turnovers and converted them into fast-break baskets.
The only problem was that those players wore the white and orange of Chester and not the blue of Atlantic City.
Chester built a lead early in the fourth quarter and staved off an Atlantic City rally to beat the Vikings 58-52 in a Jameer and Pete Nelson Scholastic Play by Play Holiday Classic game at Widener University. Chester scored the first four baskets of the fourth quarter – three of them after Atlantic City turnovers.
“It reminded me of what we do to people,” Allen said. “We cracked. They got a lead, and that basically was the game.”
Tyrell Sturdivant, a 6-foot-7 forward, scored 24 points and blocked seven shots for Chester. Senior guard Isiah Graves led the Vikings with 24 points and four steals.
“This game challenged us,” Graves said. “We played a (great) game. They just pulled away at the end. We showed a lot of heart, and it’s going to make us better.”
Fans – most of them wearing Chester orange – nearly filled Widener’s gym to watch a game that matched two of New Jersey's and Pennsylvania’s top programs. Atlantic City is the two-time defending state Group IV champion. Chester won the Pennsylvania AAAA title in 2011 and 2012 and lost in last year’s final.
“It was good,” Graves said of the atmosphere. “There was a lot of commotion in the game, a lot of trash talking. You have to overcome things like that.”
Both Chester (6-0) and Atlantic City (2-1) are teams in transition. Graves and forward Dennis White are Atlantic City’s only returning starters. Chester features 10 new players, but one of them is Sturdivant, who is headed to Stony Brook University in Long Island, N.Y. His size was a decisive factor inside.
The game turned in Chester’s favor in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The Clippers outscored the Vikings 8-0 to build a 45-36 lead with 5 minutes, 19 seconds left. Sturdivant made a layup after an Atlantic City turnover and scored again after grabbing an offensive rebound during the stretch.
But the Vikings – who led by as many as five in the third quarter – did not wilt.
The Vikings trailed by 11 with 2 minutes left, but junior forward Kevin Allen (nine points, five rebounds) began the Atlantic City comeback with a 3-pointer from the left corner with 1 minute, 55 seconds left.
A steal and layup from Atlantic City guard Tashad Reynolds cut Chester’s lead to 53-49 with 30.7 seconds left.
Graves narrowed the lead to three points with a 3-pointer from the left wing with 18 seconds left. But Chester players Khaleeq Campbell and Sturdivant combined to sink 3-of-4 foul shots in the final 13.3 seconds to clinch the win.
Atlantic City might not have been forced to try to make a comeback if it had shot the ball better in the first half. The Vikings sank just 6-of-15 foul shots in the first half.
Despite the defeat, Atlantic City took some positives from the game.
Sophomore Jamir Prevard (six points) and senior Bryan Nolan (four points) played quality minutes off the bench. The comeback in the final two minutes didn’t get the Vikings a win, but it left them feeling better about themselves.
“We have to get better,” Allen said, “but I’ve become a lot more patient. I understand the season is not a sprint but a marathon. I told the kids this would be a test of their intestinal fortitude, and they passed the first test in my opinion.”
Atlantic City 11 10 15 16 – 52
Chester 10 15 12 21 – 58
AC – White 2 0-0 4, Allen 3 1-2 9, Graves 8 7-13 24, Thomas 1 1-2 3, Reynolds 1 0-0 2, Prevard 3 0-1 6, Nolan 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 9-18 52
CH – Sturdivant 9 6-8 24, Johnson 6 5-6 17, Chambers 0 4-6 4, Campbell 1 1-2 4, Ward 1 0-0 2, Collins 3 0-0 7. Totals 20 16-22 58
3-pointers – Allen (2), Graves AC. Campbell, Collins CH.
Records – Atlantic City 2-1; Chester 6-0