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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Blue Devils come back falls short in Atlantic City

Dan Russoman/THG. Hammonton’s Kenny Smith dribbles past an Atlantic City defender early in last week’s Cape Atlantic League quarterfinal game.

ATLANTIC CITY—A frantic fourth-quarter comeback from Hammonton High School’s boys basketball team fell a few points short as the Blue Devils dropped a Cape Atlantic League (CAL) quarterfinal playoff game to host Atlantic City 75-70 on February 9.

Hammonton trailed by as many as 17 points in the second half, but used some sharp shooting from the perimeter to close the gap to just one late in the fourth quarter.

With the game on the line, Atlantic City was able to convert free throws to seal the win and eliminate Hammonton from the CAL tournament.

“We knew they would guard Kenny [Smith] close and that would create some outside shots for us. We were able to make those and get back in the game,” Hammonton coach Joe Martino said.

The game was fast paced throughout, with both teams using early runs to trade the lead.

Early drives to the basket created free throw opportunities for Hammonton in the first quarter, and the Blue Devils sank eight foul shots in the period.

Mikel Jones kept Atlantic City in the game, sinking four 3-pointers as the Vikings took an 18-16 lead into the second period.

Hammonton managed to keep the game close, but two late baskets, including one at the buzzer, helped Atlantic City turn a four-point lead into a 10-point halftime advantage, 40-30.

“We should have played [Jones] a little tighter. We knew coming in that he was one of their best shooters and he kept them in it early. And we gave up some buckets at the end of quarters that hurt us,” Martino said.

A few early baskets allowed Atlantic City to stretch its lead in the third quarter, and with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left in the period, the Vikings led by 17.

The game looked over for Hammonton, but the Blue Devils took advantage of Atlantic City’s efforts to control Smith, who led all scorers with 25 points. Atlantic City pressured Smith when he had the ball and worked to deny him when he didn’t, allowing other Hammonton shooters open looks at the basket from the perimeter.

Hammonton shooters Owen Salita, Greg Smith and Ta’Vonne Barber made Atlantic City pay, sinking five 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as part of a 32-14 run that cut the Vikings lead to just a point, 65-64, with 3:51 to play.

“They were really focused on Kenny, and we used that to our advantage. We knew we’d have guys open and we went to our bench to put some shooters in the game. We had them on the ropes for a while, but give them credit, they responded,” Martino said.

Frank Gilliam scored off an offensive rebound with 2:14 remaining to put Atlantic City ahead 68-64. With time dwindling, Hammonton was forced to foul and Atlantic City made its free throws to maintain a small lead. With 39 seconds to go, Peaky Roseborough’s steal and layup gave Atlantic City a five-point lead that sealed the win.

Hammonton played well enough to win the game, and afterwards Martino looked back at some missed opportunities.

“We struggled for a stretch in the second quarter and a few late buckets at the end of quarters hurt us. I thought we settled for some shots when we maybe could have worked for a better look. We played uphill all night,” Martino said.

Along with Smith’s 25 points, Salita added 12 and Barber had 11 for Hammonton.

Hammonton reached the quarterfinals after defeating Egg Harbor Twp. 65-49 in the opening round.

A 25-9 third quarter run helped the Blue Devils break open a close game to earn the win.

Kenny Smith led Hammonton with 24 points, while Jake Edwards added 19.

Hammonton’s week ended with a 63-51 loss to Southern Regional on February 10.

Playing for the second time in less than a day, the Blue Devils trailed for much of the game and their late rally fell short.

Kenny Smith’s 18 points led Hammonton and Barber added 16 while Azzir Smith-Bey had 12.

On February 15, Hammonton hosts Vineland at 5:30 p.m.


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