WEST LONG BRANCH - With the final seconds of his high school career ticking off the clock, Dayshawn Reynolds of the Atlantic City boys basketball team chased ball-handlers to try to make a steal Friday night.
"If there's time on the clock, we can still win," Reynolds said. "We fight till the end. That's all that matters."
Time finally ran out on the Vikings.
Atlantic City faded in the fourth quarter and lost to St. Joseph-Metuchen 63-49 in a Tournament of Champions semifinal game at Monmouth University.
"I would have liked to win the whole thing," Reynolds said, "but I couldn't ask for a better season with these guys."
The Vikings trailed by five with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in the game.
Karl Towns, a 7-foot junior already committed to the University of Kentucky, scored 24 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots for St. Joseph. Atlantic City forward Dennis White led the Vikings with 15 points and seven rebounds. Reynolds scored 14 points.
Reynolds' tenacity in the final seconds typified the Vikings' season. Atlantic City rallied in the second half for several dramatic wins.
The Vikings finished the season with a school-record 30 wins and just two losses. They won back-to-back state Group IV titles and 51 of their last 55 games dating back to last season. Atlantic City can lay claim to being the best public school team in the state.
The Vikings were disappointed after Friday's loss, but they weren't crushed.
The defeat ended the high school careers of senior starters Reynolds, center Jahleem Montague and forward Ga-briel Chandler.
"I'm really going to miss these guys," coach Gene Allen said. "All my guys that graduate are special. As a father, you say you love all your children the same. But these guys are going to be as special as I've ever had or will have. They have shown so much heart and character. They exemplify what I want in the program."
The TOC features the six teams that won state group titles. The third-seeded Vikings beat sixth-seeded Pt. Pleasant Beach 80-73 in double overtime Wednesday night, rallying from a 19-point third-quarter deficit. Meanwhile, second-seeded St. Joseph received a bye and hadn't played since beating St. Peter's Prep 57-47 to win the state Non-Public A title last Saturday.
The Vikings refused to say they were tired Friday. But signs of their weariness were evident. The Vikings sank just 1-of-12 3-point shots.
The 6-8 Montague (seven points, seven rebounds) did his best to contain Towns. But the 7-footer showed why he is headed to Kentucky. Several times Atlantic City had him defended perfectly only to see Towns (10-of-16 from the field) score.
"It was fun to play against one of the best big men in the state," Montague said. "It was a measuring stick for myself. It was a good competitive game."
Atlantic City did get Towns in foul trouble. He went to the bench with four fouls with 6:17 left in the game and the Falcons ahead 47-42. But the Vikings couldn't take advantage. Towns returned three minutes later with St. Joe leading 51-44.
St. Joe took control with a 9-0 run that turned a 49-44 lead with 4:37 left in the game into a 58-44 advantage with 2:10 left.
St. Joe guard Wade Baldwin (15 points) scored the first four points of the surge. Towns finished the run with a layup.
All postseason, Atlantic City had responded to opponents' runs with dominant surges of its own. This time the Vikings couldn't rally.
"When we were down five, we called a play, and we didn't execute," Allen said. "I think that took the wind out of us."
St. Joe will play top-seeded Roselle Catholic for the TOC title at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton.
Meanwhile, these Vikings will be remembered as the team that truly turned Atlantic City into a state power. The Vikings had one state title (2005) before the core of this team started playing.
Now they have three.
"We put a lot of work in," Chandler said. "It means a lot to me. I'll always be remembered as a two-time champion."
The Vikings lost, but they kept their sense of humor after the game.
"I wish I could bottle (the seniors) and keep them at Atlantic City," Allen said to reporters.
"No," Montague quickly responded with a laugh.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 12 19 6 12-49
St. Joseph-Metuchen 14 15 12 22-63
AC-Graves 2 2-2 6, White 7 1-2 15, Reynolds 6 1-4 14, Montague 1 5-6 7, Chandler 2 3-4 7. Totals 18 12-18 49.
SJM-Ziemba 2 0-0 4, Long 1 2-2 4, Baldwin 6 3-5 15, Townes 6 2-4 15, Towns 10 4-5 24, Owen 0 1-2 1. Totals 25 12-18 63.
3-pointers-A.C., Reynolds; SJM, Townes.
Records-Atlantic City 30-2; St. Joseph 27-4.