HADDON TOWNSHIP — The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team needed someone to make a play Sunday afternoon.
Nah’Sir Morgan figured, why not him?
The senior forward’s driving layup with 19.7 seconds left gave the Vikings a 58-56 win over Paul VI in a Paul VI Winter Classic game. The 6-foot-4 Morgan finished with 18 points, several of them coming on high-flying dunks.
“Coach (Gene Allen) said we needed a bucket, Morgan said. “I was playing well the whole game. I felt if I could get the ball in my hands, I could make a play.”
The Winter Classic featured several of South Jersey’s top teams. Atlantic City (18-3) is ranked No. 4 in The Press Elite 11.
But Paul VI (10-10) nearly pulled off the upset.
The Vikings led by seven with four minutes to play. Paul VI then sank three 3-pointers. Eagles guard Tyshon Judge drove the lane and made a left-handed layup with 35 seconds left to tie the game at 56. Atlantic City helped the Paul VI comeback by sinking just 2 of 8 foul shots during the final 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
After the Judge basket, Morgan dribbled the ball upcourt and then passed ahead to Kayto Figueroa. Morgan caught a return pass from Figueroa, bent his body around a defender and scored the winning basket.
Paul VI had its chances in final seconds. The Eagles committed a turnover with five seconds left.
After Atlantic City missed two more foul shots, a Paul VI desperation heave from just over halfcourt fell short.
“We just happened to get out of there with a win,” Allen said. “It’s a tough environment. I’m just happy to get the win.”
Atlantic City won despite just getting 10 points from senior Ray Bethea Jr., who entered the game averaging 24.8 ppg.
Morgan gave the Vikings consistent energy, especially in the second quarter when he stole the ball on consecutive plays and drove the length of the court for a dunk and an acrobatic layup.
“I thought (Morgan) played fabulous,” Allen said. “Especially in the first half. If it wasn’t for him, we probably would have been down. He knocked down shots. He changed shots (on defense). He made passes. He ran the floor. It’s exactly what you would expect out of senior coming down to his final games.”
Atlantic City also got 13 points each from Ramone Rodriguez and Nazim Derry.
“When Ray is not hitting, other people have to step up,” Morgan said. “Ray was able to assist the ball, rebound and push the ball up the floor. But with him only having 10, someone had to step up, and that someone was me today.”
Atlantic City begins play in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament on Friday. The South Jersey playoffs start Feb. 26. The Vikings know the season is winding down, and the objective more than ever is simply to win — how victory is achieved doesn’t matter.
“Before the game, Coach Allen gave us one of the best pregame speeches ever,” Morgan said. “He said we’re either going to play five games (the rest of the season) or 12 games (if the Vikings win the postseason). As a senior, I feel we need those 12 games. I want to go back to the state championship. I was there as a sophomore, and I want to go back.”
Atlantic City 14 16 14 14 – 58
Paul VI 8 15 18 15 — 56
A.C. — Morgan 18, Rodriguez 13, Derry 13, Bethea 10, Teague 4
Paul VI — Johnson 11, Judge 14, Haye 16, Boyd-Savaqe 2, Sannon 13
3-pointers — A.C., Morgan, Rodriguez; Paul VI, Johnson (2), Judge (2), Haye, Sannon
Records — Atlantic City 18-3; Paul VI 10-10