By Phil Anastasia
WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. -- Key for tonight's Tournament of Champions semifinals, which tips at 6 at Monmouth University:
Does AC (30-1) still have its legs?
The Vikings are a tough, talented team. And their conditioning sure seemed like a factor in that 80-73 double overtime victory over Point Pleasant Beach in the T of C quarters on Wednesday night at TR North.
But when does AC run out of gas?
Is it tonight against No. 2 seed St. Joseph of Metuchen (26-4), the well-rested Non-Public A champion?
That's the big question about tonight's semifinal game. AC can match up with SJM, even though the team in green probably has more "basketball talent," especially since the Falcons' best player is 7-0 junior Karl Towns, a Kentucky commit.
And junior wing players Wade Baldwin and Marques Townes are future D-1 guys, too.
Not sure you can say that about any AC players.
But AC is 30-1 this season and 51-3 over its last 54 and 19-1 in elimination games over the last two seasons and two-time Group 4 state champions because the Vikings play with great energy, spirit and commitment.
Their defense sets the tone for everything else.
And defense at every level is about effort and energy and sustaining focus.
So the question is whether AC has enough gas to handle SJM after another demanding tournament run that included an OT victory over Linden in the state finals Sunday at Rutgers and a 2 OT game against PPB in the T of C quarters.
AC played 40 minutes Wednesday night. Most of their key guys played more than 36 minutes.
It was an emotional game, too -- down 19, up 5, then one OT, then another as PPB answered AC.
SJM sat with its feet up Wednesday night.
Maybe that hurt the Falcons. Maybe the Vikings have the momentum and the confidence -- the rhythm and the feel that comes with playing games at this level at this stage of the season.
Or maybe the Falcons have the spring in their step and the Vikings have no legs.
After these last two seasons, I would never count out AC. This team always -- always -- seems to find a way.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.