WILDWOOD, N.J. - While Jamal Melvin wound up slapping together a respectable performance, his night included a few what-ifs.

Prominent among them: What if he'd not been called for his second foul with 27 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Oh, and it was 40 feet from the basket during a stall-for-a-final-shot sequence.

"I know. That was silly," he said. "I thought I made a clean pick, really, but I still can't let that happen. In a situation like that, I have to give the guy some room."

Melvin, a spunky (definitely), 5-8 (probably not), 140-pound (maybe) senior point guard, uttered those thoughts last night in the Wildwood Convention Center after Monsignor Bonner High came oh-so-close to knocking off many folks' No. 1 team in South Jersey, Cherokee, in the championship game of the Boardwalk Basketball Classic's Seashore Cup Bracket.

The Friars fell, 56-53, and - wouldn't you know it - they were ultimately left forlorn by a guy with Philly ties.

Guard Willis Nicholson, who grew up in Germantown and played for Cardinal Dougherty, then Prep Charter, buried a 22-foot, left-wing trey with eight-tenths of a second remaining.

Dan Vanderslice's three-quarter-court inbound pass, intended for Scott Slade, was broken up at the buzzer.

The Friars had a foul to give before Nicholson decided to become a hero, and coach Tom Meakim said he relayed those instructions to his players.

"I didn't hear that," Melvin said. "Once Willis came off that pick and got the ball, we should have fouled him. That would have been the right thing.

"That was a tough shot [ with Vanderslice and guard Joe McGinn on either side]. But I know Willis from playing against him. He's good. Once he let that one go...I did kind of feel he was gonna hit it. It had that look."

Melvin finished with 10 points, three assists, no turnovers and the one big regret.

"I hardly ever get in foul trouble," he said. 'That knocked off my rhythm. It was tough watching that second quarter. I'm the team leader, the guy who's supposed to make everyone better and get them in the flow. Make sure they're playing hard. Can't do that from the bench."

Actually, the Friars stayed afloat rather nicely in the second quarter. Even won the session, 15-10, to edge within 28-25 at intermission.

Just to remind everyone of what they'd been missing, Melvin was his typically feisty and productive self as the third quarter began. Drove the length of the court for a layup. Passed to Keefer Francis (15 points, 10 in those 8 minutes) for a basket. Nailed a right-wing jumper to provide a 31-30 lead.

"I felt I had to do extra things because of the time I missed," Melvin said.

As the fourth quarter opened, McGinn (10 points) swished a trey for a 44-40 lead and, soon thereafter, did a repeat performance to make it 49-44.

"Jamal and Joe were our two best players down here," Meakim said.

Melvin gave Bonner its last points on a foul line jumper. Nicholson (14 points) collected his ninth assist with 1 minute, 24 seconds left as a layup by Maurice Jackson (his father, Clarence, was a starter for Southern's 1986 Public League champion) created a 53-53 tie.

Bonner turned it over at 53.8 and Cherokee held from there.

"Our problem this year is slacking off at the beginning of games," said Melvin, who lives near 54th and Chester, in Southwest Philly, is drawing interest from D-1 and D-2 schools, and hopes someday to own a business. "We have to come out hard from the start."

Another game

In the Seashore Cup consolation, Archbishop Wood bested Woodbury, N.J., 58-42, as Doug Macrone (23 points, 12 rebounds) and Joe Getz (20, nine rebounds, four assists) led the way. The Vikings played without starters Fran Dougherty (foot stress fracture) and Brian O'Grady (returned home for family reasons).