Forget game of inches. This was a game of milliseconds.
With time running out, Sussex Central’s Shamirea Sheppard hit a 3-pointer that would have tied St. Mark’s in the second round of the DIAA Girls Basketball State Tournament on Friday night. But the officials quickly – and decisively – ruled that the shot left Sheppard’s hand after the buzzer had sounded.
The Spartans were left with a hard-fought, 37-34 victory. The Golden Knights were left with hard feelings and frustration.
“We’re not happy, I can tell you that. We’re not happy,” Sussex Central coach Ron Dukes said. “When I saw that shot leave, I looked up and there was tenths [of a second] on the clock. I don’t know what everybody else saw, and maybe the video will tell me different. But in my heart right now, that shot was off [in time]. It should have been good. We should have been playing overtime.”
Sixth-seeded St. Mark’s (13-8) will meet third-seeded Caravel in the quarterfinals at Smyrna on Wednesday night, at a time to be determined. Sussex Central had a 10-game winning streak snapped and finished 17-5.
Spartans coach John Fiorelli saw the final shot differently than Dukes.
“I didn’t think it was close,” Fiorelli said. “Obviously, it’s heartbreaking for them, but I didn’t think it was close. The buzzer went off when she was dribbling back, and then she clearly shot. I applaud the ref. It took a lot of guts to call that.”
St. Mark’s held a 35-30 lead with 3:43 to play, but Jasmine Hudson scored twice on offensive rebounds to pull Sussex Central within 35-34 with 2:16 to go. Sheppard missed the front end of a one-and-one at the 1:18 mark, and the Golden Knights were called for an intentional foul with 36.6 seconds left.
Jenna Wolff hit two free throws for a 37-34 lead, and the Spartans kept possession of the ball. But Claudia Seemans missed the front end of a one-and-one with 16.3 seconds to play to give Sussex Central a final chance.
The Golden Knights actually got three chances. Hudson missed a 3-point attempt from the right wing. Emily Truitt got the rebound and kicked it back out, but Hudson missed again from the same spot. Sheppard got the rebound, sprinted toward the left corner and fired a shot falling away as the buzzer sounded. The officials ruled it was too late.
“I still think it was good,” Dukes said. “But that’s me protecting my kids, right? That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
The teams also met Jan. 9 at St. Mark’s, with the Spartans rolling to a 32-13 halftime lead before holding on for a 50-44 victory.
“They’re more athletic, and they’re quicker and stronger so we just wanted to take care of the ball a little bit better,” Fiorelli said. “We saw how they came back last time, in a rush by getting steals and getting layups and shooting 3s. We knew it would be a close game. We just wanted to take care of the ball in key situations.”
Wolff led St. Mark’s with 19 points. Hudson scored 12 for Sussex Central, and Taylor Pritchett added 10.
Afterward, Dukes didn’t know what to say to his team.
“I had a hard time talking in the locker room,” the coach said. “My assistant did all the talking for me. I was a little emotional. I don’t even know what I would have told them if I could have talked. It’s just heartbreaking.
“Whether it was that last-second shot or any time you lose in a state tournament, it’s heartbreaking when you lose your last game of any season. It’s hard to take.”