SMYRNA – Top-ranked Smyrna clinched the Henlopen North boys basketball title the old-fashioned way on Wednesday night – in the paint.
The Eagles’ normally accurate 3-point shots weren’t falling, so they controlled the interior on both ends instead and pulled away for a 52-36 home victory over Cape Henlopen.
“We’re a 3-point shooting team, but we’re always trying to look to get the ball inside first,” Smyrna coach Andrew Mears said. “We ended up trusting each other, throwing the ball inside and getting some benefits of that.”
The Eagles (16-2, 11-0) will go for an undefeated conference season against Dover at home on Friday. Smyrna will meet Henlopen South champion Woodbridge in the overall Henlopen Conference championship game at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at Cape Henlopen.
“It was one of our goals,” Mears said. “We knew that year to year, the Henlopen North always puts together a few teams in the [state] tournament. So we knew if we were ever in the running to compete for the Henlopen North, we would also be in good position for a tournament run.”
Caleb Matthews, one of the state’s best deep shooters, was 0 of 4 behind the arc. But the junior guard still created openings to penetrate and hit 6 of 8 shots in the lane on his way to a game-high 16 points.
“They were closing out on me hard. They were pinching me the whole game,” Matthews said. “I knew I had to do something else than shoot threes, so I got to the basket. If they didn’t step up, I finished. If they did, I dumped it off to the bigs.”
Those bigs – 7-foot-2 Zubi Nwankwo and 6-5 Jaymeir Garnett – came up big as well. Nwankwo finished with nine points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks. He also altered at least 10 more Cape shots as the Vikings made just 5 of 23 (21.7 percent) inside the 3-point line, and 11 of 46 (23.9 percent) overall.
“Everything he does changes the game for us, both offensively and defensively,” Mears said of Nwankwo. “His presence around the rim … he impacts us every single night.”
Garnett finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Anthony Watson scored 12.
“They don’t have many shooters, so we knew we were good in the zone,” Garnett said. “Our rebounding was there every time. With [Nwankwo] and me back there, it’s unstoppable.”
Cape was unstoppable early, building a 9-4 lead on Randy Rickards’ short jumper over Nwankwo. But Watson scored on a fast break, and Matthews hit a floater and lobbed to Nwankwo for a monster dunk that pushed the Eagles ahead 10-9 after one quarter.
Smyrna ripped off 11 straight in the second quarter, with Matthews driving for a reverse layup and scoring off a turnover to make it 22-14.
The Eagles led 25-16 at the half, then continued to build the margin. A 9-0 run midway through the final period sealed it, as Watson flew in for a jam and hit Smyrna’s only 3-pointer for a 48-31 cushion with 3:28 to play.
Cape (12-6, 8-3), which was coming in on a four-game winning streak, got 11 points and eight rebounds from Rickards and nine points from Ian Robertson.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ