By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — It’s going to be very tough for a lot of teams in South Jersey to match up with Ray Bethea Jr. this season. Oh, and then there is Nah’Sir Morgan and Nazim Derry to worry about when going up against Atlantic City.
The Vikings’ big three looked in midseason form on Friday night against host Holy Spirit, even though it was the first game of the 2017-2018 season. Bethea filled up the stat sheet in the first quarter alone, pouring in 16 points on his way to a game-high 25 as Atlantic City cruised to a 66-35 win over its arch rival.
It was a packed house — as usual, when these longtime rivals meet — and the Vikings put on a show in the first half, racing out to a 28-14 lead, which quickly swelled to 34-17 on a vicious putback dunk by Morgan. The Vikings also played tough defense, limiting Holy Spirit to just three points in the second quarter. Morgan finished with 21 points and 15 boards, and Derry added 12 points as they, along with Bethea Jr., scored 58 of Atlantic City’s 66 points.
“I just wanted to be aggressive. We’ve been talking about team chemistry, and I just want to be a dominant force,” Bethea Jr. said. “I’m just trying to start off strong, get some points early so we can get a lead and I can get my teammates involved so we can keep building that chemistry throughout the season.”
“We knew how they were going to play. They sat in a zone, switched it up sometimes to press and play man. We just follow coach (Gene) Allen, he’s the man and he knows what he’s talking about,” Morgan added. “It felt good (to get off to a good start). Everybody came together at the right time and played as well as we could. We were hitting shots, rebounding, pushing the ball up the floor and getting them to turn the ball over.”
The Vikings continued to apply pressure defense in the third quarter, and a driving scoop layup by Derry pushed the lead to 46-22. Moments later, Atlantic City showed its athleticism as Bethea lofted an alley-oop to Morgan off an inbounds play, and Morgan slammed it home to make it 48-22 and put the game out of reach.
“We just have to keep working on executing plays and playing help-side defense. And some other things, but nothing too big that we can’t work on it,” Morgan said.
Bethea Jr. said the three senior starters have to set the tone for the season, and an emphatic win over Holy Spirit was a nice start.
“We’re the three captains, and I feel as though if we play like this every game, we’re going to be a dominant force. If the defense collapses on me, I know I can dish it off. If the defense collapses on Nazim, he knows he can dish it. We cause problems in the paint and on the perimeter,” he said. “It’s nice to start off with a win and get the first one out of the way so our fans know what’s coming the rest of the season.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays