VOORHEES – The finish was so impressive and so overwhelming that it very well could be the beginning of the final push in a season-long quest.
In shooting for its elusive 12th state title, the Camden High boys’ basketball team ripped a 16-2 run over the final 2:25 to upend Eastern 66-60 on Tuesday afternoon in what the Panthers hope is a prelude to another championship.
“What they did in the last minute shows what they can do,” Camden coach John Valore said about his team.
Camden, ranked No. 1 in the South Jersey Sports Digest Top Ten, certainly looked ready for the postseason when it flooded the Vikings with full-court pressure to turn a pair of eight-point fourth quarter deficits into a win on the home floor of the No. 4 ranked team by the SJSD.
Camden (16-4) was coming off a loss to another power from out of the area, losing to the Patrick School 75-52 on Sunday. The Panthers other losses were against No. 3 Shawnee in overtime, defending Class AAAA Pennsylvania state champion Imhotep Charter and North Jersey power Gill St. Bernards.
The High has won 11 state titles, but the last one was in 2000 when Dajuan Wagner, was a junior. Since then, Camden has lost eight consecutive state finals, starting in 2001 when Wagner was a senior, including four-straight.
Wagner, who helps coach during practices, said after the game that Camden has to start faster in the playoffs and play harder from the opening tap.
“We have the ability,” Valore said. “They have to come out and play hard.”
Valore certainly has mounted the hardest schedule as he could.
Last month, Camden posted its most impressive win of the season with a 74-71 triumph over powerful Westtown (Pa.), which boasts Duke recruit Cameron Reddish, a 6-7 forward and a McDonald’s All-American, and Indiana recruit Jake Forrester.
“Our schedule is tough,” said senior forward Myles Thompson, a three-year starter, who scored 14 points against Eastern. “We play some of the top teams in the country and then we play these games that are tough and they all are preparing us for the playoffs.”
The High finished a challenging stretch where they played five games in eight days with the win over Eastern (15-8).
The Vikings absolutely qualify as a tough opponent as last month they knocked off top-ranked Atlantic City on this floor. Eastern coach Kevin Crawford is also toughening up his team for the upcoming South Jersey Group 4 tournament, which looks like a showdown with No. 3 Shawnee, with a challenging schedule.
Truly, both teams benefited from this game.
Camden senior guard Corey Greer, who missed the postseason last year with a torn ACL, led the Panthers with 19 points. Junior guard Ethan Tarte added 17.
Eastern’s 44-42 lead to start the fourth quarter swelled to eight points – twice. The first time was with 5:22 left in the quarter on a pair of free throws by senior guard Troy Edwards.
Camden answered with five straight points on a 3-pointer by Greer and two free throws from Nasir Hinson.
The Vikings’ lead again hit eight points with 2:25 to play on a dunk by Cotton, a 6-foot-5 senior who is committed to Yale University.
The emphatic two-handed slam by Cotton, who transferred from St. Benedicts and had to sit out the first 30 days and paced Eastern with 17 points, appeared to put the exclamation point on another impressive win by Eastern
However, Camden ripped off eight-straight points over the next 50 seconds on a pair of threes by Tarte and Greer and two free throws from Tarte to suddenly tie the game at 58-58.
Eastern regained composure and the lead on a pull-up jumper by Edwards with 1:25 to play, but that would be the last basket by the Vikings.
A corner jumper by Tarte tied the game at 60-60 and started the decisive 8-0 run to finish, including a slashing layup by Hinson, two free throws by Greer and a layup by Tarte.
“We don’t let down,” Thompson said. “We keep fighting until there is no time left on the clock. We keep playing, it doesn’t matter. We keep fighting to win.”
Camden, which plays No. 10 Bishop Eustace on Saturday at Paul VI, is looking for two games next week to finish up the season with 25 total games and push toward their state title quest.
“We’ve been getting ready,” Valore said, “since the first game.”
Camden 14 17 11 24 - 66
Eastern 16 13 15 16 – 60
C- Corey Greer 19, Myles Thompson 14, Saleem Brown 5, Nasim Hinson 5, Ethan Tarte 17, Lance Ware 6.
E- Onye Okoro 4, Jesse Barbera 9, Troy Edwards 16, Andrew Heck 6, Ryan Ems 8, Matt Cotton 17.