By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — The Egg Harbor Township boys basketball team is almost artistic in the way it approaches the game on a nightly basis. The Eagles are loaded with talent and have players who can score in a variety of ways, from smooth layups to flower-petal soft jumpers in the lane to high-arching threes from the corner. Beethoven could provide the soundtrack to the poetry that plays out on the floor, or maybe Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
The Eagles win a lot of basketball games, and they look pretty doing it.
But every once in a while you have to win a game ugly. You have to take another team’s repeated gut punches, hang in there and find a way to come out with a victory even if it gets messy.
On Tuesday night in Holy Spirit’s cramped gymnasium, the host Spartans were going to make EHT earn every point it got, and boy did the Spartans ever. They fought back time and time again, eventually tying the game at 52 with less than 30 seconds remaining, setting the stage for EHT senior Isaiah Glenn.
The lanky guard took an inbounds pass from Jay-Nelly Reyes on the left side with 2.5 seconds to play, dribbled once and heaved up a shot as he was falling out of bounds. Nothing-but-net at the buzzer, as EHT walked off with a heart-pounding 55-52 win over Spirit in a matchup of two of the Cape-Atlantic League’s most dynamic teams.
“Two seconds left on the clock, we were tied up and I knew we needed a shot. I just had in my head, ‘one, two, let it go.’ It felt good leaving my hand, but when it went in I was still in shock and just ran to celebrate with my team,” said Glenn. “This meant a lot, especially in this game, this atmosphere was crazy. We didn’t want to come out on the losing side of this. Holy Spirit’s a great program, they came out aggressive, but we matched their aggressiveness and it came down to the last shot.”
“I told our guys before the game that this was the last CAL team we lost to on their floor — it was Feb. 13, 2021 and I’ll never forget that,” said EHT coach Cameron Bell, who has led the Eagles to 25 wins in their last 27 games. “I said we know how hard they are going to play, we know how loud the crowd is going to be, we just have to weather the emotional storm, and we did.”
Egg Harbor Township (11-1, 6-0 CAL United), the No. 10 team in the state according to nj.com, went on an 11-4 run to close out the first half with a 28-21 lead, and after three quarters the Eagles led 42-34. But in the fourth, Spirit (5-4, 3-2 CAL United) came alive behind bruising forward Jayden Llanos, who hit a free throw then fed Jamil Wilkins on a breakaway to help Holy Spirit shave the deficit to 42-39. EHT hit the gas pedal and raced out to a 48-39 lead, but again Llanos helped the Spartans come back, along with some big plays from the likes of Ky Gilliam and Jahmir Smith. Smith’s drive with 1:17 remaining cut EHT’s lead to 52-50 and then Llanos scored off an outlet pass after a wild scramble, knotting the score, 52-52, with less than 30 seconds to go.
“He’s a tough kid and a hard worker,” Bell said of Llanos, who finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. “Basketball rewards toughness, and that kid is tough. He played tough all game long.”
EHT was sparked by leading scorer Carlos Lopez, who after a slow start finished with a game-high 20 points, including three 3-pointers, and five rebounds. He hit big shots throughout the second half, answered every big Holy Spirit bucket.
“Carlos is a great player and our No. 1 scorer, but we all have talent. If he’s ever having a bad game, any one of us can pick him up and tonight it happened to be me,” Glenn said. “This gets us back in that winning spirit and from here we just want to keep winning as many games as we can.”
“One thing about us — and people still haven’t seen us play our best yet — but we know when we have ball in our hands we can score on every possession. We can get a good shot on every possession because we have guys like Carlos Lopez, D.J. Germann, Isaiah Glenn, Anthony Colon, Jay-Nelly. All five of them can score and we know how to get shots, it’s just a matter of making them. Tonight, we made them when it counted,” Bell said. “Especially coming off a lost at Westfield on Saturday night, a two-hour drive up to North Jersey, we knew this game was going to test our mental toughness. I’m proud of the boys. This shows they are grown up and they are maturing the way we want them to.”
Glenn finished with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists while Germann added 13 points. Gilliam and Wilkins combined for 24 of Holy Spirit’s 52 points, and Gilliam added 12 rebounds.
What’s next: EHT hosts Lower Cape May on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Holy Spirit hosts St. Joseph Academy on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays