PENNY HILL – The closer the games are, the closer the Mount Pleasant boys’ basketball team pulls together.
Seventeenth-seeded Cape Henlopen provided a spirited challenge, but the Green Knights, the tournament’s top seed, held on for a heart-stopping 50-47 victory in the second round of the DIAA boys’ basketball state tournament Friday night.
“I think we’re good at staying positive, believing in each other and sticking with the master plan, which is to play good defense,” Mount Pleasant head coach Lisa Sullivan said. “I thought it was a real tough game. This was a real good competitive game and we knew Cape was going to come after us.”
“It was a hostile environment, but it was very fun,” said sophomore guard Fah’Mir Ali, who led all scorers with 16 points. “They were the underdog, so we knew they were going to try and get the upset, but we knocked them of.”
Ali’s seven first-quarter points guided Mount Pleasant (19-3) to a 14-9 lead after period of play. Cape Henlopen found their stride after that, thanks in large part to junior forward Randy Rickards, who led Cape with 14 points. Two thunderous dunks by Rickards, including a putback jam, helped the Vikings (15-7) close the gap to 36-34 after three.
“We were ready. Things didn’t go our way early, but we showed a lot of grit and composure,” Cape head coach Stephen Re said. “Defense has never been an issue for us, but when we struggle putting the ball in the basket, it leads to frustration.”
Cape put their frustration aside and tied the game at 40 on a pair of Ian Robertson free throws with 3 ½ minutes to go.
Ali gave Mount the lead for good with a baseline teardrop at the 3:03 mark of the fourth quarter and added two free throws to push the lead to 44-40. Mount seemed poised to pull away after a KVonn Cramer dunk and Keon Taylor breakway lay-up with a minute to go, but Cape closed to within three points once again and had a chance to tie. Robertson’s 3-point attempt rimmed out and Rickards’ last-second heave was off and the Green Knights could breathe a sigh of relief.
“We’re experienced because we’ve been through this type of game last year,” explained Taylor (11 points). “Those games paid off a lot.”
Mount Pleasant now moves to face St. Georges in quarterfinal action Sunday at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center.