By Phil Anastasia
Gabriel Chandler re-injured his finger.
Dayshawn Reynolds hurt his back.
Atlantic City beats East Brunswick in state semis
Isiah Graves made a key layup, then immediately commited his fifth foul by drawing a costly technical.
But adversity is nothing new for the Atlantic City basketball team and neither is finding a way to succeed in spite of any and all opposition.
"There's just something about this group," Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said after the Vikings emerged with a 51-49 victory over East Brunswick in a pulse-pounding Group 4 state semifinal Wednesday night at Egg Harbor Township.
Graves scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, Chandler made a series of big plays and Reynolds came back from an injury that he described as "horrible" as Atlantic City (28-1) advanced to Sunday's state championship game against the Linden at Rutgers.
Linden beat Hackensack 83-78 in OT.
"I knew I had to get back out there for my teammates," said Reynolds, who went down hard on a baseline drive with seven minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the game.
Graves, a junior guard, said he complained to a referee about a non-call on his layup that gave the Vikings a 45-43 lead with 1:56 left. He was overwhelmed with emotion after the game.
"I'm crying from joy," said Graves, who scored 15 in the second half.
Reynolds returned to the game with 4:51 on the clock and helped spark a late-game surge that carried Atlantic City, the defending state champions, to the title game for the fourth time since 2005. Atlantic City will seek its fourth state title on Sunday.
The Vikings also got great work from senior center Jah-leem Montague, who scored six of his 15 in the fourth quarter.
"It's the man next to you having your back and you having his back," Montague said of the Vikings' knack for winning close games.
Atlantic City is 49-3 in its last 52 games. The Vikings have shown the remarkable ability to battle back from deficits, to find a way to win under difficult circumstances.
Just Monday night, they fell behind 10-0 but rallied for a victory over Lenape in the SJ 4 title game.
But this was different. This victory was one of the more impressive in the long history of the program. Atlantic City was down 33-19 late in the second quarter to an East Brunswick team that entered the game with a 26-3 record that included a pair of victories over South A champion St. Joseph of Metuchen.
"That was a great team," Reynolds said of East Brunswick.
The Vikings rallied behind their trademark defense, which held East Brunswick to just four points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Graves scored five straight to give Atlantic City its first lead at 38-37 with 6:15 left in the game.
"I was telling myself I had to step up for my teammates," Graves.
Chandler jammed the middle finger of his left hand fighting for a rebound in the third quarter. The finger already was wrapped from a previous injury.
But Chandler, like Graves and Montague, picked up his game in the second half. He had two steals, two assists and three rebounds in the final 16 minutes.
"We just fight for each other," Chandler said.
The final few minutes were tense, with a near-capacity crowd of around 1,500 roaring with every swing of momentum through four lead changes and two ties.
Atlantic City finally surged in front to stay on Graves' basket for a 45-43 lead. Moments later, Montague converted a three-point play, taking a nice feed from Dzja Chase, making a layup and adding a free throw for a 48-44 lead at the 1:10 mark.
Montague, Tashad Reynolds and Chase all made free throws for the Vikings in the final 52 seconds.
"They have a certain confidence about themselves," Allen said of his players. "They never think they are out of a game."
Atlantic City 10 13 10 18 -- 51
East Brunswick 20 13 4 12 -- 49
AC: Gabriel Chandler 6, Dayshawn Reynolds 5, Dennis White 6, Isiah Graves 17, Djza Chase 1, Tashad Reynolds 1, Jahleem Montague 15.
EB: Rob Ukawuba 16, Amir Bell 7, Jake Krantz 8, Dan Leung 10, Gary Banner 7, Carl Taylor 1.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.