ABSECON — Ga-briel Chandler kept his cool even when he was flat on his back Tuesday night.
The 6-foot-4 senior forward scored 16 points to lead the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team to a 54-47 win over Holy Spirit. The Vikings (19-1) clinched the Cape-Atlantic League American Division with the win.
Chandler’s poise helped the Vikings stave off several Holy Spirit rallies.
“You just have to tune everything out and worry about getting the win,” Chandler said.
In the fourth quarter, Chandler rebounded his own missed foul shot and somehow ended up on his back in the lane. He calmly flipped the ball to teammate Jahleem Montague for a layup. Spirit fouled Montague, who made the free throw to put the Vikings up 10 with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left in the game.
“I missed the free throw, and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I have to hustle,’ ” he said. “I saw Jahleem in front of them and just gave it up to him.”
Chandler also found himself at the center of an Atlantic City defensive stand in the final minute.
Holy Spirit trailed 50-47 with 55 seconds to play. Spartans guard Paul Moore (16 points) drove the lane.
Chandler deflected a Moore pass. Vikings forward Dennis White picked up the loose ball and threw it ahead to Reynolds for a breakaway dunk.
The Spartans then rushed a 3-point shot. Atlantic City rebounded the miss and again passed to Reynolds ahead of the field for another breakaway dunk.
Few teams have Atlantic City’s ability to quickly get the ball from one end of the court to the other.
“That’s Atlantic City basketball,” Vikings coach Gene Allen said. “Our kids have had so much success. They don’t get too overwhelmed with a situation. At the end, they think they’re going to win and they play like it.”
Fans packed Holy Spirit’s gym to see one of the area’s top rivalries. Atlantic City, the defending state Group IV champion, is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11. Some fans thought a Spirit upset was a very real possibility. Atlantic City had not played crisply in recent games, while Spirit had won eight of their last nine contests.
But while fast-break baskets and dunks have along been a part of Atlantic City basketball, these Vikings have the ability to execute in the halfcourt.
That was the difference Tuesday.
Holy Spirit (14-8) grabbed a 32-31 lead on Junior Saintel’s driving layup with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
With the Spirit fans roaring, the Vikings slowed the pace. They ran a halfcourt play that ended with guard Dejza Chase throwing a lob pass to Dennis White (12 points) for a layup to put the Vikings back in front.
“We’ve been working a lot on sets the past week or so because it’s getting to be that time of the year,” Allen said. “We want quality possessions.”
The Vikings never trailed again white White’s layup. The basket began a 9-1 run that put the Vikings up seven as the fourth quarter started.
Spirit rallied in the fourth quarter but never got closer than three points.
The loss left the Spartans frustrated. Spirit has yet to get a signature win this season.
“We battled the whole night,” Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie said. “They’re a really good team, and we just didn’t execute in the last 50 seconds. I think we have to take out of this that they’re the No. 1 team in South Jersey. From the perspective of our kids, we have to feel like we can play with anybody.”
As for the Vikings, Chandler is a big reason why they play with so much poise. On Tuesday, he seemed to always sink a 15- or 17-foot outside when Atlantic City needed a basket.
“I think Ga-briel one of the more underrated players in the league,” Allen said. “He’s not appreciated for things he does. Sometimes I don’t even appreciate him because we expect so much of him.”
Chandler didn’t even appear that excited after the game despite the emotional victory over one of the Vikings biggest rivals.
“This means a lot,” he said, “but we’re worried about playoffs and the next game. We just forget about the (last) game and worry about the next game.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 16 12 12 14—54
Holy Spirit 9 13 11 14—47
AC—Chandler 6 4-10 16, Montague 3 1-1 7, D. Reynolds 3 2-2 8, Graves 1 6-8 9, White 6 0-3 12, T. Reynolds 1 0-1 2. Totals—20 19-25 54.
HS—Moore 5 6-7 16, Saintel 4 2-4 10, Middleton 4 3-6 11, Midi 1 0-0 2, Daniels 3 2-3 8. Totals—17 13-20 47.
Records—A.C. 19-1, Spirit 14-8.