PISCATAWAY — The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team’s thrilling postseason run ended Friday night.
The Vikings can take solace in that took a national power to end their season.
St. Anthony of Jersey City overwhelmed the Vikings and won the Tournament of Champions semifinal 72-42 at Rutgers Athletic Center. USA Today ranks St. Anthony No. 3 in the country. The Friars (31-0) have won 64 straight games over two seasons.
Kashawn Dunston scored 15 points for Atlantic City. St. Anthony’s Kyle Anderson, whose family has Cape May roots, sparked the Friars with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
“It’s not disappointing to be overwhelmed by a team like that,” Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said. “We’re just in line with 30 other teams that got overwhelmed during the season.”
The TOC consists of the six teams that won state titles. Fourth-seeded Atlantic City won the Group IV title. Top-seeded St. Anthony, who also won the TOC last season, is the Non-Public B champion.
The Friars dominated the first quarter. Isaiah Graves sank a 3-pointer to give the Vikings a 3-2 lead with 7 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
It was Atlantic City’s only lead. St. Anthony responded with an 18-1 run to take control.
Atlantic City wilted under St. Anthony’s defensive pressure. The Vikings committed seven turnovers in the first quarter. St. Anthony converted many of them into easy baskets. The Friars sank 9-of-12 shots in the first in eight minutes.
St. Anthony geared its defense toward stopping Atlantic City point guard Martel Johnson.
“We always talk about trying to cut the head off,” St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley said, “and he was clearly the head (of the Vikings).”
St. Anthony guard Josh Brown hounded Johnson everywhere he went.
“It was tough,” Johnson said. “They play good help defense and draw charges.”
The Vikings also could not cover Anderson, who showed why he is one of the nation’s top high school players and headed to UCLA on a scholarship. The 6-foot-8 Anderson showed his versatility in the first half, scoring in the lane and then banking in a fadeaway 17-footer. Most of Anderson’s assists resulted in easy layups for teammates.
Even when the Vikings did something right, St. Anthony and Anderson recovered.
The Vikings trapped Anderson on the baseline in the second quarter. Anderson stayed poise and fired a pass to an open Jerome Fink for a layup that gave St. Anthony a 34-8 lead with 3:35 left in the first half.
“It was almost like watching an NBA guy against high school kids,” Allen said. “Whenever they’re in trouble, they get it to him and he makes the difference. You’re trying to coach against him but at the same time you’re admiring him as a player.”
Atlantic City never stopped playing hard despite the score. The Vikings fans also stayed enthusiastic.
Dunston gave the Vikings a reason to feel good when he scored eight points in the final 1:30 of the first half. Dunston stole the ball and drove for a dunk and then made consecutive 3-pointers. Atlantic City still trailed by 25 at halftime.
“I didn’t want to go out losing real bad,” Dunston said. “I wanted to try to make a run.”
Dunston’s efforts also caught St. Anthony’s eye.
“They showed they weren’t going anywhere,” Hurley said of the Vikings. “We came in at halftime and said, ‘We need to win the third quarter for this (game) to be done.’ If we don’t win the third quarter, God knows what could happen in the fourth quarter.”
The Friars did just what their coach said they must. Anderson sank a 3-pointer from the left wing to put St. Anthony up 58-26 with four seconds left in the third quarter.
Allen played Atlantic City seniors Dunston, Johnson, Ahmad McKinley, Keyshawn Reynolds and Qua’shawn Dorn for most of the fourth quarter.
The Vikings’ fans gave the five a standing ovation when they left the game.
St. Anthony will meet third-seeded Plainfield (30-3) for the TOC title at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Izod Arena in East Rutherford. Plainfield beat second-seeded St. Joseph-Metuchen 70-48 in Friday’s other semifinal.
Meanwhile, Allen called Friday’s loss a teachable moment for the Vikings.
“Now our guys got a taste of what it actually takes to be on this stage,” Allen said. “Now I can go back a month from now and tell my kids why they need to be in the weight room and why they need to take extra shots.”
Despite the defeat, this was one of the best seasons in Atlantic City history. The Vikings’ only other state title came in 2005.
It would be tough to find an Atlantic City season more memorable than this one.
The Vikings won seven games in the state tournament. They rallied from second-half deficits to win six of them. Three of the victories came in overtime.
“The last two weeks have been an enjoyable ride,” Allen said. “It feels good. The program is where we want it to be, but now we have to take the next step. I need to improve as a coach, my kids need to improve, so we can be on a level with a St. Anthony. The only way you do that is to roll your sleeves up and get back at it.”
Atlantic City’s first practice of the 2012-13 season is Nov. 26.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 6 10 12 14—42
St. Anthony 22 19 17 14—72
AC—Johnson 2 0-0 4, Dunston 6 1-2 15, Chandler 1 0-2 2, Montague 2 3-4 7, D. Reynolds 2 0-0 4, Graves 1 0-0 3, McKinley 2 0-2 4, Lowe 1 0-0 3. Totals—17 4-10 42.
SA—Brown 4 1-2 9, Cooke 5 0-0 10, Anderson 8 3-3 20, Jenkins 3 0-0 6, Frink 6 1-2 13, Carey 2 2-2 6, Brooks 1 0-0 2, Smith 0 1-2 1, Molic 2 0-0 5. Totals—31 8-11 72.
3-pointers—Dunston (2), Graves, Lowe AC. Anderson, Molic SA.
Records—Atlantic City 26-6; Sr. Anthony 31-0.