Prep races past AC at Battle by the Bay
ATLANTIC CITY — St. Augustine Prep senior center Justyn Mutts calls teammate Austin Kennedy the best point guard in the Cape-Atlantic League. The number of people who might doubt that statement dwindled even further after Kennedy's performance against rival Atlantic City at the Battle by the Bay on Friday night.
Kennedy racked up 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers, as the visiting Hermits blitzed the Vikings from the opening whistle and cruised to a 66-46 victory to remain undefeated. The Hermits also moved two games ahead of Atlantic City in the race for the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title.
"He's a solid guy on the team. He puts up numbers every single night and nobody really pays attention to it," said fellow senior Walter Harvey, who chipped in with 11 points and four rebounds.
"Definitely coming in ready and playing defense, getting our easy layups like we do, that gave us momentum. Our defense really transitioned into offense, and getting easy baskets was the key," Kennedy said. "It's a lot of fun, personally, and as a team. We're really excited right now. It was a great win. We just came out ready to play today, and came out on top. I like the big crowd and this is a pretty good shooting gym. My teammates getting me involved and getting me open shots is the key."
Kennedy tipped in a missed shot underneath by Travis Stoll to give St. Augustine (17-0, 9-0) an early 8-0 lead, and the Hermits extended their advantage to 12-0 when Mutts found Charles Soloman underneath with a nifty pass. Atlantic City (12-5, 6-2) didn't get on the board until nearly five minutes had gone by. Nah'Sir Morgan finally broke the scoring drought with an inside basket, but St. Augustine had built a 21-7 lead by the time the first quarter ended.
Atlantic City played catch-up the rest of the night, getting a big lift in the third quarter from Ray Bethea — who went on a 5-0 run all by himself — to get to within 10 points, 43-33, but just as quickly the Hermits extended their lead to 52-35 by the end of the quarter. St. Augustine went on an 11-0 run that stretched into the fourth quarter, taking a 57-35 lead on a three-point play by Harvey. Harvey ended any thoughts the Vikings might have had of a late comeback when he drove the baseline and slammed home a dunk with 6:40 to go to push the lead to 59-37.
"This shows we're a very respected team, and we should be respected by everybody in the state and not just South Jersey. We come out and play our game and win," Kennedy said.
"We all play together and accept our roles. We know our strengths and weaknesses," Harvey said. "Justin has been our leader and has gotten us through a lot. We just have to keep coming out strong. We're going to keep going as long as we can."
Mutts finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots and, more importantly, didn't get into foul trouble. He helped limit Bethea to 14 points and Nazim Derry to 10.
"If he's not scoring, he's still doing other things. He's scoring a lot of times, but he's always blocking shots, playing good defense and getting rebounds," Kennedy said of Mutts. "He makes other teams' shots hard for them by making them change their shots."
A couple weeks ago, St. Augustine didn't look good at all in a win over Holy Spirit, and coach Paul Rodio wasn't shy about telling the media after the game that he was disappointed in his team. He said it was the worst he's seen a Hermits team play offensively in about 25 years. The team responded, and has been playing outstanding basketball ever since.
"After that game, the next day in practice, we came out ready to go," Kennedy said. "Coach got us all on the same page and we've been playing well. We keep coming out and playing together, so we're having a lot of fun right now."
Harvey said playing at the Battle by the Bay is always a thrill for he and his teammates.
"It's exciting every year," he said. "You get a good atmosphere, a good crowd and a good game every year. We wanted to start out strong and take it to them as best we could from the jump."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays