The Atlantic City High School basketball boys team faced elimination in nearly every postseason game it played en route to Cape-Atlantic League and state Group IV titles this season.
More often than not the Vikings relied on Kashawn Dunston to pull them back from the edge.
Dunston, a 6-foot-3 senior swingman, is The Press’ Boys Basketball Player of the Year. He helped the Vikings finish 26-6 and win both the CAL and state Group IV titles.
“At the end of the game, I have confidence in my shot,” Dunston said, “so I just shoot it. Shooters keep shooting — miss or make.”
Dunston made more than he missed in the playoffs. Atlantic City rallied from second-half deficits in eight of its nine wins in the CAL and state tournaments. Dunston was a big reason why the Vikings were so resilient.
“After a while, we got used to being down,” Dunston said. “We got used to those situations.”
Here are just a few of Dunston’s clutch postseason shots.
n He made two foul shots with less than two minutes to play to give the Vikings the lead for good in their 35-32 CAL semifinal win over Holy Spirit.
n His 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1 minute, 43 seconds left gave Atlantic City a one-point lead in the CAL title game against Middle Township. The Vikings never trailed again.
n Dunston scored 22 points as the Vikings beat top-seeded Eastern 65-63 in a South Jersey Group IV semifinal. He made three 3-pointers in the first half to keep Atlantic City close and then clinched the victory by making two foul shots with 3.4 seconds left.
n He sank two 3-pointers in the final 1:21 of overtime as Atlantic City rallied from a five-point deficit to beat Ewing 65-60 in a Tournament of Champions quarterfinal.
n In his last high school game, Dunston scored a team-high 15 points to as the Vikings lost to undefeated St. Anthony of Jersey City 72-42 in a TOC semifinal.
Dunston averaged 11.2 points per game. He was capable of scoring much more, but the Vikings were a talented group with plenty of depth. They had four different leading scorers in eight state tournament games.
“He never once displayed an attitude where he would say, ‘I’m not scoring enough’ ” Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said. “He’s a team guy almost to the point where as a coach it would drive you nuts because you see so much ability in the kid.”
Dunston showed that ability when the Vikings needed it the most. He averaged 13.4 points in Atlantic City’s eight state tournament games.
His most impressive performance came at Eastern in the South Jersey Group IV semifinals. Atlantic City, trailing by double digits in the first half, was in danger of being blown out. Dunston provided the offense that kept the Vikings close enough to make a second-half comeback.
“That game was very crazy,” he said. “I didn’t want to go home so I did all I could to win that game.”
Dunston began to play basketball in the third grade while attending the Uptown Complex School in Atlantic City. He knew he was talented when he could keep with the sixth-graders.
Dunston hopes to play college basketball. Several Division I junior colleges are recruiting him, according to Allen.
Atlantic City’s only other state basketball championship came in 2005. Many of the Vikings grew up together. Now Dunston and his teammates are celebrating a state championship together.
“We feel like kings,” he said with a laugh.
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Atlantic City had one of its worst seasons ever in 2010-11. The Vikings finished 14-12 – their most defeats in a single season since the 1970s.
In 2011-12, many of those same players who were on the 14-12 team sparked the Vikings to one of their most memorable seasons ever.
Atlantic City won the state Group IV title for only the second time in the program’s history. The Vikings finished 26-6 and No. 3 in The Press Elite 11. They are The Press’ Team of the Year.
The Vikings’ success this season did not come without struggles. They were 5-4 in early January before committing to a defense-first philosophy. With a stingy man-to-man defense as its defining quality, Atlantic City won 21 of its next 23 games.
“Coming back as seniors, we didn’t want (a 14-12 record) again,” Dunston said. “It’s kind of weird that it happened like this. But now they don’t look at us like we’re losers anymore. Now we’re champions.”
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Atlantic City players wear sweat shirts with the words “I survived Coach Allen” on the back.
This season the Vikings did more than survive.
Allen, 51, led Atlantic City to the state Group IV championship. He is The Press’ Coach of the Year.
This year’s state championship establishes Allen as one of the region’s top boys basketball coaches. He is now 194-68 with two state titles and four South Jersey championships in his nine seasons. Only three local boys basketball coaches have won more state titles. Former Pleasantville coach Ken Leary and Middle Township coach Tom Feraco have won three each, while Paul Rodio of St. Augustine Prep leads the area with four.
“The playoff run was a very enjoyable ride,” Allen said. “I thank the kids, especially my seniors. I thank them for this run. The program is where we want it to be."
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