TOMS RIVER — The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team’s past playoff wins proved just to be an opening act.
On Wednesday night, the Vikings delivered the main event — a victory that is probably the most dramatic in the school’s postseason history.
Atlantic City — down 19 points late in the third quarter — rallied to beat Pt. Pleasant Beach 80-73 in double overtime in a Tournament of Champions quarterfinal at the Pine Belt Arena. The third-seeded Vikings (30-1) — who set a school record for wins — will play No. 2 seed St. Joseph-Metuchen in the semifinals 6 p.m. Friday at Monmouth University in West Long Branch.
“We’re Vikings,” said Atlantic City guard Isiah Graves, who scored a team-high 22 points. “We’re going to fight until the end. We’re not going to give up if we’re down 30 points, 40 points. When we’re losing we dig deep. This game we had to dig the deepest we have all season.”
The Vikings scored the first seven points of the double overtime — all on foul shots. Atlantic City standouts were everywhere throughout the comeback. Jahleem Montague (16 points, seven rebounds) sparked the second-half rally. Dayshawn Rey-nolds (14 points, seven rebounds, five steals) carried the Vikings in the first overtime. Ga-briel Chandler scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Dennis White had eight points and eight rebounds.
The game was filled with twists
and momentum changes. The Vikings actually squandered a five-point lead in regulation and a six-point lead in the first overtime.
The Vikings entered Wednesday’s game off back-to-back improbable wins over East Brunswick (51-49) in last week’s state Group IV semifinal and Linden (60-54) in Sunday’s state final. The Vikings trailed East Brunswick by 14 in the first half and beat Linden in overtime. Those games seem run-of-the-mill when compared to Wednesday’s contest.
The TOC features the six teams that won state titles. Sixth-seeded Pt. Pleasant Beach (28-4) won the Group I title. Beach is a talented, versatile group and it showed its skills for the game’s first 21 minutes.
Beach, sparked by point guard Matt Farrell, jumped to a 12-0 first-quarter lead. The Garnet Gulls were up 39-20 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds left in the third quarter. They were up 43-25 with 3:19 left in the third quarter.
Farrell played the best game a point guard has against Atlantic City all season with 23 points, eight assists and just four turnovers.
But Beach knew an Atlantic City run was coming.
“We’ve watched them seven times on tape,” Pt. Pleasant coach Nick Catania said. “They up the intensity level from two to 10.”
Vikings coach Gene Allen wasn’t so sure.
“I told them if we don’t make a move in the third quarter, I’m taking you out and playing all the young guys,” Allen said.
The Atlantic City comeback began with 2:30 left in the third quarter when Graves sank a 3-pointer. The Vikings sank just 2-of-15 from beyond the arc.
Montague finished the third quarter with a coast-to-coast drive and tip-in to pull the Vikings within 11.
Allen left the starters in.
“I told my teammates we’re not losing this game,” Montague said. “I looked at my teammates. They looked at me. We all knew we could still win this game.”
The Vikings began the fourth quarter with a 15-3 run. Graves sank a 3-pointer to give the Vikings their first lead at 51-50 with 4:12 left in regulation.
Beach never faded, however.
Farrell tied the game with a scoop layup with 1:20 left. Beach had a chance to win in regulation but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Atlantic City again appeared headed for victory in the first overtime as Reynolds dominated.
He blocked a shot, sank two foul shots, scored and passed to Montague for a basket.
The Vikings were up 67-62 with 1:25 left. But Reynolds fouled and Beach rallied — again. The Vikings fouled Beach center Riley Calzonetti (20 points) on an inbounds play. Calzonetti made both foul shots with three seconds left to force double overtime.
The blown leads did not discourage Atlantic City. To Montague, simple math was a reason to stay optimistic.
“We were down 20,” he said. “Overtime is 0-0. That’s easier than 20.”
The Vikings dominated the second four-minute extra period. Atlantic City got the ball inside and drew fouls. Montague and Chandler combined to sink 3-of-4 foul shots to put the Vikings up 73-70.
Atlantic City then began to take time off the clock. Graves sank 3-of-4 foul shots to push the lead to six with 1:07 left. Beach seemed to run out of energy.
The win left fans of both teams shaking their heads. The Vikings’ ability to come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits is remarkable.
“Our coach told us at the beginning of the season that it was going to be a rough road,” Graves said. “We’re 30-1. The coach took us on a journey that we never saw before, and we’re going to keep (playing) until it’s over.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Pt. Pleasant Beach 17 17 13 12 11 3 — 73
Atlantic City 12 8 16 23 11 10 — 80
PPB—Farrell 8 4-7 23, Calzonetti 9 2-2 20, Yates 3 0-0 8, Uhl 4 1-4 11, Kinneavy 2 2-3 7, Bryant 2 0-0 4. Totals 28 9-16 73
AC—Graves 6 8-10 22, White 3 2-6 8, Reynolds 6 2-4 14, Montague 7 2-4 16, Chandler 7 3-7 17, Chase 0 3-6 6. Totals 29 20-37 80
3-pointers—Farrell (3), Uhl (2), Yates (2), Kinneavy PPB; Graves (2) AC.
Records—PPB 28-4; Atlantic City 30-1