JERSEY CITY - The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team came face-to-face with a more talented version of itself Saturday night.
St. Anthony of Jersey City wore the Vikings down and methodically beat Atlantic City 45-31 in the featured game of the Dan Finn Classic in the Jersey City Armory.
St. Anthony (12-0) is a national power with 77 straight wins. Junior guard Isiah Graves earned the game's most valuable player award for Atlantic City with 11 points.
Despite the loss, the Vikings gave notice to the North Jersey high school community that they are more than capable of defending their state Group IV championship.
"We can hold our heads up," said Atlantic City senior guard Dayshawn Reynolds, who sparked the Vikings' defense with six steals. "They're very good team. It was all about playing good defense and leaving here knowing we gave (our all) on the floor."
Atlantic City and St. Anthony play a similar style.
The Vikings play harassing man-to-man defense. But St. Anthony's defense is even more intense.
Atlantic City relies on transition baskets and offensive rebounding for points. St. Anthony does the same but rebounds better and is quicker down the court than the Vikings.
Atlantic City features tall, strong and talented players. St. Anthony features taller, stronger and more talented players.
"They play just like us," Graves said. "You have to have a lot of stamina to play them. You have to run up and down the floor and defend. It makes you tired as the game goes on."
Three busloads of Atlantic City fans made the trip to Jersey City. The armory is located atop a hill overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
The Dan Finn Classic featured some of the state's top teams. The event is named after Dan Finn, who died at the age of 23 when he was hit by a car in Myrtle Beach, S.C. His father, Ed, is a Jersey City teacher and basketball referee. Proceeds from the event help high school students pay tuition and other charitable causes.
"This is a different atmosphere than the South Jersey games," Graves said. "The refs let you play more. It's more physical. You have to adjust to it."
The Atlantic City vs. St. Anthony contest was a rematch of last season's Tournament of Champions semifinal. The Friars won that game 72-42.
Saturday's game was much more competitive.
Still, St. Anthony began to pull away in the second quarter behind the inside play of forward Tim Coleman (11 points, nine rebounds, four blocks). The Friars led by as many as 10 in the first half.
Forward Dennis White (eight points, six rebounds) came off the bench to give Atlantic City some offense.
Atlantic City had opportunities throughout the game to cut into St. Anthony's lead. But a shot that rolled off the rim or an ill-advised pass stymied any Atlantic City comeback.
Atlantic City began to fade in the third quarter. The Friars converted some fast breaks into easy layups and led 39-20 with 5:55 left in the game.
But the Vikings never let up defensively and slowly cut into St. Anthony's lead. Atlantic City forced the Friars into eight fourth-quarter turnovers.
Graves was able to penetrate through the St. Anthony defense to create scoring opportunities for himself. He sank one field goal and 5-of-5 foul shots in the final eight minutes.
The Vikings had the ball three times in the final three minutes with a chance to cut the lead to single digits. But they either missed shots or committed a turnover.
Despite the defeat, the Vikings relished the experience of playing St. Anthony in such a unique setting.
"We're not into moral victories," Vikings coach Gene Allen said. "But I thought we represented ourselves well. I'm hard to please, but I'm somewhat pleased today."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 7 8 5 11-31
St. Anthony 10 13 12 10-45
AC-Graves 2 6-7 11, D. Reynolds 0 0-0 0, Montague 1 4-4 6, Chandler 2 0-0 4, White 4 0-1 8, Chase 1 0-0 2. Totals-10 10-11 31.
SA-Brown 6 2-4 14, Mosley 1 0-0 2, Coleman 4 3-3 11, Cooke 1 3-4 5, Arri 3 1-2 7, Smith 1 0-0 2, Brooks 2 0-0 4. Totals-18 9-13 45.
Records-Atlantic City 11-1; St. Anthony 12-0.