Before we go any further, take a look at what the Point Beach and Atlantic City boys basketball teams are at their respective cores. The Garnet Gulls are a tiny Group I school that was through to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions for the first time, while Atlantic City is the two-time reigning Group IV champion, which has led something of a renaissance in New Jersey as the large Group IV public school has made a comeback statewide.
The two polar opposites played in the first round of the TOC and when you look at the result, an 80-73 double-overtime Vikings win, it’s understandable if you want to go ahead and label it a moral victory for the Garnet Gulls. We understand that given the large school power vs. small school upstart dynamic.
Here’s the thing about moral victories from our vantage point after having a front row seat for Point Beach-Atlantic City. We’re not in favor of moral victories, but they have a time and place. Wednesday at Pine Belt Arena is not one of those times. Not when the Garnet Gulls scored the first 12 points of the game, not when they raced out to a lead that reached as many as 19, not when the Vikings clawed back from a 11-point deficit after three quarters to force overtime and not with a chance for the win in the waning seconds of overtime.
We stress the fact that the Garnet Gulls, easily the best Group I team in the state, went toe-to-toe with the Group IV torch-bearing Vikings. Most Shore Conference teams not named Point Beach would not have put forth the effort that it did on Wednesday, but this one is going to hurt given the stakes involved. It would be unfair to say moral victories apply here.
It was looking like a watershed evening for the Shore Conference, which was 5-11 all-time in the TOC, and that’s without a win as potentially-massive as what Wednesday would have been. The Garnet Gulls (27-4) took a 7-0 lead in the first 59 seconds of the opening quarter, a lead that would extend to 12-0 before Atlantic City decided to wake up and play. The Vikings settled in, getting to within five at 17-12 after one quarter, but they fell in love with too many perimeter looks against the Garnet Gulls’ 2-3 zone.
Behind heady point guard Matt Farrell, Point Beach pounced, showing off a mix of strong transition offense and good decision-making in the halfcourt to take that 11-point lead after three quarters. Then, an avalanche struck Toms River.
Atlantic City began to turn Point Beach over out of the full-court press and began to hit some of those perimeter shots, ripping off a 16-3 run to open the fourth and the Garnet Gulls were reeling.
Point Beach hung tough to force overtime after trailing by five, but once the game got to overtime tied at 59, there was a sense that maybe Point Beach’s best chance at the win had already come and gone.
A nip-and-tuck first overtime led to a 70-all tie, an Atlantic City miss from midcourt by Dejza Thomas and a second overtime. It was that second overtime that finally did Point Beach in.
With Point Beach in foul trouble, the Vikings began to pound the ball inside and get to the line after contact on the way up. Jaleem Montague and Gabriel Chandler did exactly that on Atlantic City’s first two possessions of the second overtime, combining to go 3-for-4 from the line for a 73-70 lead with 3:07 to play.
In between, Point Beach turned the ball over and took a 3-pointer from the right wing that could have been something better down three and in need of a bucket.
In the second overtime, Point Beach was 1-for-8 from the field. Atlantic City wasn’t particularly crisp either, but a 10-for-14 showing from the line in the second overtime was enough to complete a comeback that was beyond unlikely just 60 minutes from the time third quarter ended.
Twenty-five minutes after the final horn sounded on a landmark season, Point Beach emerged from the visiting locker room to hugs and condolences, left to think about what they had accomplished and unfortunately, what could have been.