It was part Olympic Conference opener, and part South Jersey Jazz AAU intra-squad scrimmage.
For Shumeek Scott, it was all that and something else that was extra special: a chance to play in the first game of the season.
"This is the first time I ever played in the first game of the season in high school," Scott said after leading Eastern to a pulse-pounding, 64-63 victory over Cherokee last night in the Chiefs' gymnasium.
Scott scored 24 points and made both ends of a one-and-one from the free-throw line with eight seconds left on the clock to finish the Vikings' dramatic rally from a game-long deficit.
"No doubt," Scott said of his free throws, although he quickly admitted to a few anxious moments when his first attempt rattled around the rim, hit the backboard, and dropped through.
"It looked like it was coming out," Scott of his first shot.
Scott's clutch free throws were a fitting finish since the burly 6-foot-2 senior swingman dominated the fourth quarter. Using his rare combination of strength and quickness, Scott scored 13 points in the final eight minutes, including a stretch of nine in a row for the Vikings.
"Shumeek took over the game," Cherokee coach Ron Powell said.
Senior guard Bobby Harris added 18 points, including a couple of big-time buckets in the fourth quarter, and junior forward Kyle Jose added 11 points as Eastern battled back from deficits that ranged from 14-2 after four minutes to 37-26 at halftime.
The victory had extra meaning for Scott and Harris since they have played the last couple of summers on the South Jersey Jazz AAU team with Cherokee athletes Ronson Quick and Nelson Torres, among others.
Quick's father, former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick, greeted Harris' father, Bob, before the game. The two men had spent much of the summer together traveling with the AAU team, which Harris coached.
It was a big night for Jazz players as Scott, Harris, Quick (18) and Torres (16) combined for 76 points. But the Eastern guys finished with the upper hand, thanks to Scott's big fourth quarter and dramatic free throws.
"Bragging rights," Scott said.
Scott's big performance was especially gratifying, as the athlete was unable to make an impact at the start of the season earlier in his career.
As a sophomore at Gloucester Catholic, Scott didn't play in the opener because of injuries and wasn't a big factor for the Rams until the latter part of the season.
Last season, after transferring to Eastern, Scott sat out the first 30 days of the season because of NJSIAA rules.
"That was tough," Scott said. "It was hard for me to leave Gloucester Catholic. I felt like I had family there."
Eastern coach Joe Murphy said Scott never really caught up after sitting out the first month last season.
"It was frustrating for him," Murphy said. "He never really got in a rhythm after sitting out the first 30 days. It really wasn't until the end of the season that he was playing his best basketball."
Powell called Scott "one of the best players in the conference," and noted the difficulty in defending an athlete who can muscle smaller players and burst past taller players.
Scott did plenty of both in the second half. He scored 19 of his points after intermission, most on put-backs, spin moves and hard drives to the basket.
Cherokee went in front, 63-62, when sophomore Bryan Cooper took a perfect inbounds pass from Christian Jordan and made a layup with 9.3 seconds on the clock.
After a time-out, Eastern's Mike Newman raced down the court and fed Scott, who barreled to the basket and drew a foul at the 0:08 mark.
"Routine, just like practice," Scott said of his free throws.
It was a lot more dramatic than that, as Shumeek Scott finally figured about what he's been missing on these opening nights.