WILDWOOD — The Wildwood Catholic boys basketball team made one comeback Thursday night.
The Crusaders needed two.
Camden held off a late Wildwood Catholic rally to beat the Crusaders 57-51 in an Andrew Alameno Memorial Showcase game at the Boardwalk Basketball Classic. Wildwood Catholic trailed by 13 late in the third quarter. Camden (4-0) is No. 2 in The Press Elite 11 ranking, while Wildwood Catholic (5-1) is No. 3.
“Our kids fought back,” Wildwood Catholic Dave DeWeese said. “But we squandered some opportunities in the last minute.”
Wildwood center Taj Thweatt grabbed a rebound with the Crusaders down two and less than a minute left. But Camden got its hands on the ball, and the officials whistled jump ball. Possession went to the Panthers, who scored the game’s last four points to clinch the win.
Sophomore forward TaQuan Woodley scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Camden.
Thweatt scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Crusaders point guard Jake McGonigle scored eight points and committed just one turnover. Junior guard Jahlil White added eight points and five assists.
Camden dominated the game for most of the first half and third quarter with its rebounding and interior defense. It seemed as if the Panthers should have been winning by more.
“I think we were playing like we were intimidated by them,” DeWeese said. “We weren’t attacking them.”
Wildwood Catholic got back into the game with a 12-0, second-half run. Jacob Hopping (10 points) finished the surge with 3-pointer to cut Camden’s lead to 47-46 with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“In the second half, we were able to use our defense to create some stuff,” DeWeese said. “It energized us.”
Thursday’s game brought some added excitement to the Boardwalk Basketball Classic, an annual event that bills itself as the nation's largest high school coed basketball tournament. Fans nearly filled the bleachers that surround the court on three sides. Camden is one of the state’s premier programs
“This was great,” Camden coach Vic Carstarphen said, “coming down to this environment.”
Thursday’s game honored Alameno, a 1982 Wildwood Catholic graduate, who was killed in the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers in New York.
The Panthers dominated the first half and most of the third quarter. Camden outrebounded Wildwood Catholic 30-23 and outscored the Crusaders 36-26 in the lane.
The Camden defense contested nearly every Wildwood Catholic shot. The Crusaders were 18 of 46 from the floor. Woodley blocked four shots.
Camden took control with an 11-3, second-quarter run that turned a six-point advantage into a 30-16 lead.
Wildwood rushed on offense and took some ill-advised 3-pointers during the this stretch. The Panthers converted the long rebounds into easy baskets.
“The big thing today was to win the inside,” Carstarphen said, “offensively and defensively.”
It would have been easy for Wildwood Catholic to fade away, but the Crsuaders never stopped grinding and nearly pulled off the comeback.
It was Camden, however, that made the plays it needed to in the final minute.
Lance Ware sank two foul shots with 51.6 seconds left to push the Camden lead to four. Woodley followed with a dunk off a loose ball scramble to clinch the victory.
The Camden fans began their victory chant, “You want the High. You got the High” after the dunk.
For Wildwood Catholic, the game was a measuring stick. The Crusaders play one of South Jersey’s toughest schedules and will not go long without a chance to prove themselves against another elite team and apply the lessons they learned Thursday.
Wildwood Catholic plays perennial power Archbishop Carroll of Pennsylvania in another Boardwalk Basketball Classic showcase game Saturday night.
The Crusaders planned to work on last-minute situations at Friday’s practice.
“This is why we play these games,” DeWeese said, “to get better.”
Camden 19 13 15 10 — 57
Wildwood Catholic 11 10 17 13 – 51
CD – Ware 6, Tarte 11, Woodley 19, Hidalgo 3, Brewer 10, Lett 5, Chestnut 3
WC – Thweatt 16, McGonigle 8, White, Zarfatti 4, Hopping 10, Church 4