MEDFORD TOWNSHIP — Keyshawn Reynolds of the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team admitted he thought it might have been a fluke the first time sophomore teammate Isaiah Graves drove through the Lenape defense for a basket Thursday night.
By the fourth time Graves scored on a similar move, Reynolds and probably everyone else in Lenape’s packed gym was a believer.
Graves, a reserve sophomore guard, scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime as Atlantic City beat Lenape 47-44 in a South Jersey Group IV quarterfinal. The fifth-seeded Vikings (21-5) will play at top-seeded Eastern in the semifinals Saturday at 6 p.m.
Graves gave Atlantic City the lead for good when he scored on a driving layup with 1 minute, 41 seconds left in overtime.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Graves said. “My coach always tells me to be ready. I was ready. I just wanted to make plays and attack the basket.”
What was as remarkable as Graves’ breakout performance was how Atlantic City shot clutch foul shots in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Vikings were 5-for-7 in the last 1:44 of regulation and 8-for-10 in overtime.
This is the same Atlantic City team that struggled from the foul line for much of the season, including an 8-for-34 performance in a 56-43 win over Mainland Regional on Dec. 30.
“We tried to foul different guys, too, and they just made everything,” Lenape coach Chuck Guitar said.
Thursday’s game matched two of southern New Jersey’s top defensive teams. Neither team led by more than three points in regulation. Open shots were rare. Atlantic City sank just 14-of-53 shots. Lenape made only four field goals in the final 12 minutes.
That’s what made Graves’ effort so critical. The Vikings desperately needed someone to penetrate Lenape’s man-to-man defense and create his own shot. Graves was the only Viking who consistently did that.
“I was confident at first,” Reynolds, a senior, said of Graves. “But he came through. Not a lot of people can guard him. He’s fast.”
Allen touted Graves as offensive talent in the preseason. The 6-foot-2 guard played got more playing time as the season progressed but had never had game like Thursday’s.
“We needed offense, and he came through,” Vikings coach Gene Allen said. “He was the difference in the game. Without him we don’t win.”
Both teams sank clutch foul shots in the fourth quarter and overtime. Many of the fans stood in the final minutes. Atlantic City brought a sizable and loud student section to the contest. The students chanted, “Ooh, ooh A.C. Vikings!” after the game was over.
“That’s what got us over the hump — our student section,” point guard Martel Johnson said.
Fourth-seeded Lenape (19-9) took a 35-34 lead with 18 seconds left in regulation when Avery Brown (16 points) drove and sank a 12-foot bank shot.
Lenape then fouled Johnson on a drive to the basket with 7.4 seconds left.
Johnson’s first free throw rattled in and out. Lenape called timeout. The wait didn’t bother Johnson. He calmly stepped to the foul line and sank the second free throw to tie the score and force overtime.
“I knew I was going to make that one,” Johnson said.
Atlantic City never trailed in overtime.
After Graves gave the Vikings the lead, Reynolds helped preserved the victory.
He sank two foul shots with 39.3 seconds left to put Atlantic City up 44-41.
Reynolds then made two more with 20.1 seconds left to put Atlantic City up 46-42.
During every foul shot attempt in the fourth quarter, the Vikings locked arms on the bench and swayed back and forth to send good vibes to the shooter.
“At the end of the year,” Allen said, “everybody starts to listen. No one wants to go home. They’ve become a collective group. They cheer for each other. They root for each other.”
Lenape had a chance to tie, but Kyle Robostello’s long-range 3-pointer hit the front of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
As dramatic as the win was, Atlantic City can’t rest. The Vikings must get back on a bus and travel to Eastern in Voorhees on Saturday.
“We’ll savor this on the bus ride home,” Allen said. “We’ll go up there Saturday night and see what happens.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 8 7 6 14 12—47
Lenape 8 9 7 11 9—44
AC—Dunston 5 2-2 14, D. Reynolds 1 0-2 2, Johnson 0 4-6 4, Montague 2 2-3 6, Chandler 1 2-2 4, K. Reynolds 1 4-4 6, Graves 4 3-4 11. Totals 14 17-23 47.
L—Robostello 1 0-0 3, Ward 1 0-0 2, Hand 0 2-2 2, Gaither 1 1-4 3, Brown 5 5-7 16, Baskerville 4 10-14 18. Totals 12 18-27 44.
3-Pointers – Dunston (2) AC. Robostello, Brown LEN.
Records—Atlantic City 21-5; Lenape 19-9