Atlantic Tech boys basketball wins thriller in first-ever coaching battle between Nelson brothers
HAMILTON TOWNSHIP (N.J.) - Atlantic Tech boys basketball coach Byron Nelson previously served as an assistant under his older brother, Wayne Nelson, Jr., at Winslow Township High School.
The family affair allowed Byron to gain valuable coaching experience and learn from his lifelong role model.
As a result, he was later awarded the opportunity to direct his own program.
Nelson, Jr. has since moved from Winslow to Atlantic City and squared off with his younger brother for the first time in a Cape-Atlantic League American Division matchup on Friday night.
The Red Hawks rallied from a 10-point third quarter deficit to sneak past Atlantic City, 35-34. Atlantic Tech improved its record to 9-3.
Byron Nelson currently owns the bragging rights within the family until further notice.
"He started under me," Nelson, Jr. said. "He was my assistant at Winslow. I watched him grow, I watched him mature. I watched him take over this program and I watched him grow it from the bottom up. I'm very proud of my little brother of what he's done."
Trailing 34-30, senior Zahir Davis scored, drew and foul and sank the ensuing free throw to cut Atlantic Tech's deficit to one point with 15.8 seconds left to play. On the following inbound, Red Hawks guard Abdul Hawkins deflected the entry pass, and Davis collected the loose ball and scored to establish a one-point advantage with about 12 seconds remaining in regulation.
"I just let the moment fall in my hands, Davis said. "I ain't go to it, it just came to me. It was electrifying, especially with the crowd, everything. I was just feeling it. If it wasn't for our coach's play call, we wouldn't have got this far."
Following a timeout, Atlantic Tech employed a defensive trap along the right sideline and forced the ball to mid court with only six seconds left. Hawkins notched a steal for the Red Hawks and the celebration unraveled in Mays Landing.
Atlantic Tech's cheerleaders and passionate fan section invaded the court following the final buzzer to celebrate the emotional victory for their coach.
"It was just a surreal moment," Byron Nelson said. "I'm sure I'll look back on it and have a lot of emotions, but I'm just happy for my guys right now for sure."
After establishing an 8-7 lead after one quarter, Atlantic Tech was held scoreless in the second period until senior Jayden Lopez buried a triple from the left wing with 23 seconds left.
Following the intermission, Atlantic City used an 8-0 spurt to build a 10-point advantage with 3:02 remaining. Hasanur Freeman and Nas Turner were successful in scoring and drawing fouls in the process to contribute to the Vikings' run.
The Red Hawks scored four unanswered points to conclude the period and clawed their way back in the final stanza. Desi Stroud scored to give Atlantic Tech its first lead since the opening quarter with 3:42 left to play.
The Vikings responded with a pair of free throws by Mikel Jones to regain the lead, but Atlantic Tech's Jameil Quintana wasted no time returning the favor by scoring a go-ahead basket with 2:35 remaining in regulation.
Atlantic City led by four points with 16 seconds left until Davis' heroics shifted the outcome.
"We battled adversity throughout the game," Nelson said. "We didn't shoot the ball well, we didn't play well. We just battled adversity. That's who we are. We're a tough team."
Davis and Stroud each scored a team-high seven points for Atlantic Tech. Tucker and Quintana added six each.
Freeman led the Vikings with a game-high 10 points and Jones added nine. Chris Finks chipped in five.
"Atlantic City played their butts off," the Red Hawks coach said. "I knew they would. My brother's a hell of a coach. I give him all my respect, but at the end of the day I want to beat him.
"I'm glad my players stepped up to the plate. (The deficit) was at 10, it could've went to 15, could've went to 20, but they were resilient, they battled back and we found a way to come out with the victory tonight."
It was only fitting the inaugural battle between the two brothers came down to the final possession.
"For a high school basketball game, this was amazing," Nelson, Jr. said. "A lot of his kids are from Atlantic City. They know my kids. The excitement around the game has been going on all week. They knew what they were getting themselves into. For the crowd to be like this, for the game to end how it did, even though I wish it was in favor of me, you can't beat that."
Nelson, Jr. will get his chance at redemption on February 2. The second installment of the family rivalry will be hosted by the Vikings and the atmosphere is expected to be just as vibrant.
"It's a new beginning to a new rivalry," Davis said. "It felt great to be a part of that win."
His coach couldn't agree more.
"We talked about it," Byron Nelson said. "It's gonna turn into a rivalry. That's how rivalry games should go. It's gonna go down to the wire every game. I didn't want to come in here and it be a blowout tonight either way. I wanted to be fighting the whole way, the whole 32 minutes."