LINWOOD — Coach Wayne Nelson is trying to bring back the glory years of Atlantic City High basketball, when the Vikings were a constant threat to win both the Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group 4 tournaments. His squad took a big step toward respectability on Wednesday night by going into Mainland and knocking off the Mustangs, 49-48, in a game filled with tough defense, offensive spurts by both teams and some heated moments in the second half.
The benches nearly cleared at the end of the third quarter when Atlantic City was whistled for a technical foul, and the heightened tensions seemed to spark the Vikings, who were outscored 18-13 in the third quarter. Atlantic City limited Mainland to just six points in the fourth quarter as the Vikings rallied from a 42-36 deficit at the end of the third.
The winning basket came from junior Nahseem Gordy-Harris, who converted a traditional three-point play with 23.7 seconds left. Atlantic City’s defense withstood two shots around the rim from Mainland with less than 10 seconds to go, hanging on to take over first place in the CAL National Conference race. Atlantic City (10-2, 5-1 CAL National) is now tied with Hammonton, while Mainland (9-2, 4-1), which has dropped two straight after a 9-0 start, sits in second place, a half game behind the Vikings and Blue Devils.
Gordy-Harris’ shot in the lane tied the game at 48 and Mainland called a timeout before he had the chance to shoot his free throw, but the short break did nothing to break Gordy-Harris’ concentration.
“It’s about pressure, and if you can beat pressure, you can do anything. I knew I was going to make (the foul shot). I do it for my team. We just stayed mentally tough, and when we do that we can compete with anybody,” he said. “(My teammates) knew I was going to make it. They told me I was going to knock it down and we were going to win this game. We lost to Hammonton a few days ago and we didn’t want to lose two in a row, especially against Mainland.”
“I told him he was going to hit that (free throw),” Nelson said. “And a couple minutes earlier when (Mikel) Jones hit that three, he was due for one, I just knew it. I told my guys when I woke up this morning that I felt like we were going to win this game. Just the energy and the way they responded in practice (on Tuesday), I just knew it.”
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Atlantic City got to within 44-43 on a putback by Gordy-Harris, a 3-pointer from Jones and a baseline drive from Frank Gilliam. Gilliam then put back a missed shot with 2:41 remaining to give the Vikings a 45-44 lead.
Mainland eventually tied the game, 46-46, when Cohen Cook scored in transition, and Cook — who led the Stangs with 15 points — put his team ahead, 48-46 with a baseline drive with 51 seconds to go. That set up Gordy-Harris’ heroics on Atlantic City’s next possession.
“When we played (Camden) Eastside, even though we lost we felt like we belonged with some of the best in South Jersey,” Nelson said. “Even though we lost on Monday (against Hammonton), that was a bad game and I think we were looking forward a little bit to this game. But for us to come out and respond like we did, it shows we belong.”
Sah’nye Degraffenreidt scored eight points while the Vikings were led by Peaky Roseborough, who netted a game-high 17 points.
“He’s our general,” Nelson said of Roseborough. “We’ll go as far as he goes. He gets other guys going and has the ability to get to the basket and make things happen, and that’s huge to create offense for us, create shots for us. We get going when he gets going.”
Atlantic City has a few days now to prepare for Middle Township, a team that currently is 11-1 and has scored 70-plus points on five occasions already this season.
“We have a couple of days to rest and get ready for Middle on Monday. We’ll be ready,” Nelson said. “We’ll use these next couple of days to rest up, ice up and get ready for the next game.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Atlantic City travels to Middle Township on Monday at 5 p.m. Mainland travels to Atlantic Tech on Friday at 7 p.m.
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.