Basketball: Coach learns never to count out AC

By Phil Anastasia

Gene Allen turned to one of his assistants and began to raise the verbal white flag.

"I said, 'I think we're done,'" Allen said late Wednesday night, standing outside the locker room at the Pine Belt Arena and trying -- along with everybody else who had just watched another incredible game -- to make sense of his Atlantic City team.

Allen really though the Vikings were toast. Finished. At the end of the line after a run that really began midway through last season and included a pair of Group 4 state titles and an astounding 18-1 record in elimination games.

But the Vikings were just getting warmed up. Down 19 early in third quarer, and still down 11 entering the fourth quarter, Atlantic City rallied for an 80-73 victory over Point Pleasant Beach in a double-overtime instant classic at Toms River North High School.

What a T of C doubleheader on Wednesday night: Newark Tech rallying from 16 down to beat cross-town rival Newark East Side in a game marred by a near-brawl at the final buzzer, and Atlantic City rallying from 19 down to beat a terrific team from Point Pleasant Beach.

Atlantic City's depth and fitness seemed to be factors late in the game, especially in the second OT. The Vikings just never seemed tired while PPB junior point guard Matt Farrell -- who was sensational with 23 points and eight assists, by the way -- seemed to have lost a bit of the spring in his step.

Little wonder -- Farrell played 39 minutes, 31 seconds and brought up the basketball against the Vikings' relentless full-court pressure that featured a rotating cast of three different defenders assigned to make him work for every inch of court space.

PPB also seemed to seriously sag when senior forward Riley Calzonetti, the son of former Paul VI star and current LIU-Brooklyn assistant coach Mark Calzonetti, commited his fifth foul on the first possession of the second OT.

At that point, it seemed clear that AC was going to the T of C semifinals.

AC's vast supply of energy will be put to the test. The Vikings played 40 hard minutes on Wednesday night and must travel up the Garden State Parkway to Exit 105 to face No. 2 seed St. Joseph of Metuchen at 6 p.m. Friday at Monmouth University.

AC was 2-for-15 from three-point range and missed 17 free throws on Wednesday. The Vikings likely will need to shoot much better than that to keep pace with a SJM team that features 7-0 sophomore Karl Towns, a Kentucky recruit who averages 21.2 points, 14.3 rebounds and 5.5 blocks.

The Falcons have another pair of likely future D-1 players in 6-3 juniors Marques Townes (14.4 points) and Wade Baldwin (16.8 points). Jumbo Long is a veteran senior point guard and James Ziemba is a 6-9 senior who occupies a lot of interior space as Towns likes to roam the perimeter (he has 32 three-pointers).

AC probably will play its trademark tough D and miss a bunch of outside shots and move their coach to stomp his foot and scream. AC probably will fall behind again.

The Vikings were down 10-0 to Lenape in the SJ 4 final. They were down 14 to East Brunswick in the state semifinals. They were down 3 to Linden with 40 seconds to play in the state final.

And they were down 19 to PPB and their coach figured it was all over.

Boy, that was fun while it lasted.

His team had other ideas.

Allen was spent late Wednesday. His voice was low. His team keeps driving him crazy early in games and amazing him with its ability to respond and rally late in games.

He knew he was looking at another long bus trip on Friday afternoon.

He knew he was looking at another crazy game Friday night.

But he also knew that his remarkably resilient team won't surprise him again.


Tournament of Champions

No. 3 seed Atlantic City (30-1) vs. No. 2 St. Joseph of Metuchen (27-4)

Friday at 6 p.m.

Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J.

Atlantic City's road to T of C semis: Beat Toms River South, 67-43; Southern, 61-56; Toms River North, 56-36; Lenape, 51-40 (South Jersey Group 4 final); East Brunswick, 51-49; Linden, 60-54 OT (Group 4 state final); Point Plesant Beach, 80-73 2 OT (T of C first round)

St. Joseph's road to T of C semis: Beat Immaculata, 79-54; Bishop Eustace, 59-43; St. Augustine, 80-39; Paul VI, 76-69 (South A final); St. Peter's Prep, 57-47 (Non-Public A state final); bye through quarters of T of C.

Atlantic City likely starters: Dayshawn Reynolds, 6-1 senior; Isiah Graves, 6-1 junior; Jah-leem Montague, 6-8 senior; Dennis White, 6-5 junior; Gabriel Chandler, 6-4 senior.

St. Joseph likely starters: Karl Towns, 7-0 sophomore; Marques Townes, 6-3 junior; Wade Baldwin, 6-3 junior; Jimbo Long, 5-11 senior; James Ziemba, 6-9 senior.

What's next: Winner plays winner of Friday's second semifinal between No. 1 seed Roselle Catholic and No. 5 seed Newark Tech in T of C title game at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton.

Fast fact: Atlantic City has won 19 in a row since a Jan. 19 loss to St. Anthony of Jersey City.

Did you know: St. Joseph of Metuchen is the alma mater of 76ers center Andrew Bynum.

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.