ATLANTIC CITY - The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team scored eight points in 65 seconds at the end of the first half Friday night.
The Vikings were even more efficient in the third quarter.
They scored eight points in 43 seconds.
The two scintillating stretches brought fans to their feet, left Toms River North dazed and propelled Atlantic City to a 56-36 win in the South Jersey Group IV semifinal. Top-seeded Atlantic City (26-1) will host second-seeded Lenape for the championship at 7 p.m. Monday.
Atlantic City forward Dennis White described the Vikings' simple but effective strategy Friday.
"We feed off our defense," White said. "We put pressure on the ball. They lose it and we score over and over and over."
Many high school basketball observers expected a closer game Friday. Fans nearly filled Atlantic City's gym. Atlantic City is ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, but the Mariners (25-4) are No. 8 in the Elite 11.
Two busloads of Toms River North High School fans made the trip to Atlantic City. They roared in the second quarter as the Mariners scored eight straight points to cut Atlantic City's lead to six points.
But just when North appeared to grab the momentum, Atlantic City retook control.
The Vikings sparked both of their dominant runs with tenacious man-to-man defense that forced the Mariners into 26 turnovers.
Reserve guard Dzja Chase began the 8-0 run to end the first half with a driving layup. White followed with a layup off a pass from Chase. Guards Dayshawn Reynolds (four steals) and Isiah Graves (10 points, three steals) finished the spurt with layups to put the Vikings up 32-18 at halftime.
"We just wanted to take a little bit of the pressure off," Graves said of the run. "They were too close. We get our runs off tempo. We play defense and score."
Atlantic City's third-quarter run was even more impressive.
Vikings big men Ga-briel Chandler (six points, 12 rebounds) and Jahleem Montague (16 points, eight rebounds) began that stretch with back-to-back baskets in the lane.
After Toms River North turnovers, Reynolds sank a layup and Graves finished the spurt with a reverse layup to put the Vikings 42-21 with 4 minutes, 43 seconds left. Atlantic City fans gave the Vikings a standing ovation after Graves basket and chanted "ooh, ooh AC Vikings."
"Our guys haven't been attacking the basket off steals lately," Vikings coach Gene Allen said. "We just did a good job. The kids turned it up and the right time."
Atlantic City experienced a scare in Wednesday's quarterfinals, beating eighth-seeded Southern Regional 61-56. But the Vikings played with much more energy Friday. Atlantic City seemed to grab every loose ball. White in particular dove on the floor for loose balls.
The Atlantic City locker room was a much more livelier place after Friday's game than after Wednesday's.
"You can tell by the chatter in the room that the kids feel good about the effort," Allen said.
Atlantic City will try to win its fifth South Jersey title since 2005 on Monday. Lenape (24-3), No. 5 in the Elite 11, beat third-seeded Shawnee 51-27 in Friday's other semifinal.
Atlantic City fans lined up after Friday's final buzzer to buy tickets for Monday's title game. Points figure to be at a premium Monday. Both Atlantic City and Lenape rely on defense.
"We know it's going to be a challenge," Allen said. "We look forward to it."
Free throws: Tickets for the S.J. Group IV game can be bought at Atlantic City or Lenape on Monday afternoon. Tickets cost $3 adults and $2 for students and senior citizens. No tickets will be sold at the door.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Toms River North 10 8 5 13-36
Atlantic City 12 20 14 10-56
TRN-Singleton 5 0-2 12, Carrington 1 0-0 3, Stansbury 5 3-3 15, Bernath 0 0-2 0, Rankins 3 0-0 6. Totals 14 3-7 36.
AC-Chandler 3 0-0 6, Montague 8 0-0 16, D. Reynolds 4 0-0 8, Graves 4 2-2 10, White 4 0-0 8, T. Reynolds 1 0-0 2, Allen 1 0-0 2, Chase 1 0-0 2, Prevard 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 2-2 56.
3-pointers-TRN. Singleton (2), Stansbury (2) Carrington
Records-Toms River North 25-4, Atlantic City 26-1.