ATLANTIC CITY - The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team raised doubts about itself after a lopsided loss to Wildwood Catholic in Saturday's Cape-Atlantic League title game.
Atlantic City quickly showed it's just fine Tuesday night.
The two-time defending state Group IV champions dominated from the start and beat Vineland 74-37 in a South Jersey Group IV first-round game. Atlantic City (19-7) closed the first quarter with a 19-2 run to lead 25-6 after the first eight minutes. Vineland never challenged the Vikings again.
"We came out to play playoff basketball," said Vikings senior guard Isiah Graves, who scored a game-high 20 points. "We played Atlantic City basketball."
Second-seeded Atlantic City will host seventh-seeded Southern Regional in a quarterfinal 7 p.m. Thursday.
Tuesday's game between Atlantic City and the Vineland appeared intriguing even though Vineland (13-12) was the No. 15 seed. The Fighting Clan beat Atlantic City 66-63 at Vineland on Feb. 10.
"We knew that (Vineland) would come down here intent on winning," Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said.
And then there was Atlantic City's 61-33 loss to Wildwood Catholic. The Crusaders played better defense than Atlantic City. They outhustled and were mentally tougher than the Vikings. Wildwood Catholic beat Atlantic City the way the Vikings had beaten teams the past two years.
"To lose (the CAL) especially how we did, it was a heartbreak," Graves said.
The question was how would the Vikings react to that loss?
"I was hoping to play a team that was still reeling," Vineland coach Travis Amstutz said.
The Vikings looked anything but reeling. The decisive 19-2 run began with four minutes left in the first quarter. Lamar Thomas and Kevin Allen (16 points) started it with consecutive 3-pointers. Graves sank two 3-pointers and a fast-break layup during the stretch.
"What we hadn't been doing was get some run outs," Allen said. "We got some easy baskets and we got it into to it defensively."
Atlantic City didn't even practice between Saturday and Tuesday. Allen didn't deliver any fiery speeches. The players, however, did talk among themselves.
"We all live around each other," Atlantic City senior guard Tashad Reynolds said. "We all said, 'We can't be doing that. It's the playoffs. We're not used to losing this time of year.' "
Southern advanced with a 63-54 win over No.10 seed Kingsway Regional on Tuesday.
Southern and the Vikings met in last year's quarterfinals. The Rams nearly pulled the upset. Atlantic City trailed in the third quarter but won 61-56.
Thanks to Tuesday's win the Vikings will enter Thursday's game with their mojo restored.
"I knew as a team we were going to pick it up," Graves said. "This time of the year there is no losing - playoff basketball. We had to get back to where we were."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Vineland 6 11 11 9 - 37
Atlantic City 25 21 14 14 - 74
VL - Toboloski 0 1-2 1, Babalola 5 0-0 10, Coates 1 1-2 3, Thomas 0 3-4 3, Clarke 3 0-0 6, Black 5 0-0 10, Porter 1 0-0 2, Palarers 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 5-8 37.
AC - Graves 7 3-4 20, Allen 4 6-6 16, White 3 0-0 6, Reynolds 5 0-2 10, Thomas 2 2-5 7, Prevard 1 0-0 2, Wimbush 0 2-2 2, Williams 1 3-3 5, Marsh 1 0-0 2, Redfurn 0 0-1 0, Nolan 2 0-1 4. Totals 26 16-23 74.
3-pointers - Graves (3), Allen (2), Thomas AC.
Records - Atlantic City 19-7; Vineland 13-12