Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY — Nic Johnson, a 6-foot-3 junior guard for the Hammonton Blue Devils, thought he had nailed the game-winning shot against host Ocean City on Thursday night. He drilled a 3-pointer from the wing with four seconds left to put his team up 57-54. He was thinking he’d have his name in the headlines on Friday, everybody talking about how calmly he stepped up and hammered home the game-winning shot.

Dylan Schlatter had other ideas. The Ocean City point guard heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer, and it found nothing but net, sending the last game for both teams before the Christmas break into a four-minute overtime period.

Most teams would have found it tough to rebound from something like that, but this year’s Hammonton squad has some moxie. The Blue Devils went out and outscored the Red Raiders 13-8 in the extra frame, getting out of town with a 70-65 victory. It was much needed, too, as the Devils were coming off a tough 58-43 loss on the road at Middle Township the night before.

“We just thought of it as we get four more minutes to play, that’s all,” said Hammonton junior point guard Kenny Smith, an all-state football player who led the way with 19 points.  

Junior Nic Johnson scored 15 points to help lead Hammonton past Ocean City, 70-65, in overtime. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“We just told everybody we had to lock in — minor setback, major comeback,” Johnson added. “We knew we could handle adversity and we just went hard during that overtime. I was shocked for a second, but I knew we had to get back to work, so we kept going.”

Ocean City (3-1, 3-0 Cape-Atlantic League National) pulled within 60-59 halfway through the overtime period when Sean Sakers fed Pat Grimley underneath, but moments later Hammonton (3-1, 1-0 CAL American) responded with a huge 3-pointer from Ta’Vonne Barber to extend the Devils’ lead to 63-59. Joe Gillen — who came up with some huge rebounds in the fourth quarter and overtime — sank a pair of free throws with 1:36 remaining to put Hammonton up, 65-59. The Red Raiders got as close as 67-64 when Omero Chevere nailed a three, but Smith iced the game by hitting 3-of-4 from the line in the final 13 seconds.

“Our resiliency starts in this locker room. Everybody is hungry and everybody wants to win,” Smith said. “Since Game One, we just come out here and know we have to get the job done. This was a big win. We feel like we should have won the Middle Township game. We’re a sleeper team. Nobody expects anything from us, so we want to open people’s eyes up.”

The game was nip-and-tuck throughout, with only two points separating the teams through the first three quarters. Midway through the fourth quarter, Ocean City took a 54-49 lead on an acrobatic layup by Chevere, and the Red Raiders then went into stall mode, trying to get Hammonton to commit fouls to regain possession. Ocean City, however, didn’t score another point the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, until Schlatter’s heroics at the buzzer. With three minutes remaining, Hammonton got a huge 3-pointer from Johnson that shaved the Red Raiders’ lead to 54-52.

Hammonton’s Tyler Lowe, right, reacts after Ocean City’s Dylan Schlatter nailed a half-court buzzer beater to send the game into overtime. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Then, with 1:35 left, Barber came up with a steal and fed the ball ahead to Smith, who was fouled. He converted both shots to tie the game at 54, setting up the dramatic final four second of play moments later.  

The key for Hammonton was the play of Smith and Johnson, who combined to score 34 points, including 20 in the first half. The Blue Devils also got eight points each from Barber and Gillen, and 10 from Tyler Lowe. Sakers led the way for Ocean City — which was down two starters to injury, senior center Andrew Karayiannis and junior guard Kori Segich — with 15 points while Chevere added 14.

The loss was the first of the season for Ocean City, which remains tied atop the CAL National standings with St. Augustine Prep. Hammonton is now 3-1 before the break and takes on a tough Lower Cape May squad next week before a January slate that features 14 games in 31 days.

Johnson said beating a previously undefeated Ocean City team gives the Blue Devils some confidence heading into the meat of their schedule.

“I think we’re a very good contender for the Cape-Atlantic League, judging by the guys we have. We go hard and we have a bunch of dawgs,” he said. “It all starts in practice. We get better every day in practice, everybody goes hard in practice, and we stick together. We stuck together and that’s what won us this game.”

What’s next: Hammonton vs. Lower Cape May at noon on Tuesday. Ocean City vs. Pemberton at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays