The Linden boys’ basketball team was oh so close and yet oh so far.
But maybe only a year too far.
Linden, after leading by three points with less than 30 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, fell to defending champion Atlantic City 60-54 in overtime in Sunday’s Group 4 state championship game at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway.
Linden had a five-game winning streak snapped and finished a fine season at 22-8.
Atlantic City, which repeated as Group 4 champions for the first time, won its 18th straight to take a 29-1 record into the Tournament of Champions, which it has never won. Atlantic City defeated Elizabeth 53-47 in last year’s Group 4 final at Rutgers.
The Tigers, sparked by a game-high 21-point performance from sophomore Joshua Carter, also returns juniors Quadri Moore, Juwan Jones, Terrell Bagley and Alonzo Hamilton and sophomore Justin Dolbrice for the 2013-2o14 season.
This was the first time in four tries that Linden lost in the Group 4 final under 16th-year head coach Phil Colicchio.
Linden captured all of three its state championships under Colicchio, winning Group 4 in 2000 over Bridgewater-Raritan, over Atlantic City in 2006 and over South Brunswick in 2007.
Linden began its 2012-2013 season 9-0 before falling to the Patrick School in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play.
The Tigers were later defeated by the Celtics right before the buzzer 44-42 in the Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University.
Linden – as the top seed – rebounded to win North 2, Group 4 for the second time in three years, defeating Franklin, Dickinson, Elizabeth and Ridge.
Linden then came back in the fourth quarter to force overtime and then downed Hackensack 83-78 in the Group 4 semifinal played Wednesday night at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth.
LINDEN TIGERS IN 2013 STATE TOURNAMENT PLAY:
NORTH 2, GROUP 4
First round: Linden 49, Franklin 33 – at Linden
Quarterfinals: Linden 66, Dickinson 27 – at Linden
Semifinals: Linden 53, Elizabeth 40 – at Linden
Final: Linden 49, Ridge 46 – at Linden
Semifinals: Linden 83, Hackensakc 78 (OT ) – at Elizabeth
Final: Atlantic City 60, Linden 54 (OT) – at Rutgers
– JR PARACHINI