LEWES – Sanford came into its second game at the Slam Dunk to the Beach boys high school basketball showcase with a very uncharacteristic 1-4 record.
Then the Warriors sent a statement to the rest of the First State:
We’re still here. And we’re still pretty good.
Sanford fell behind early, then roared past No. 2-ranked Smyrna on Thursday afternoon at Cape Henlopen High. The sixth-ranked Warriors broke a four-game losing streak in a big way, leading by 14 late before cruising to a 64-54 victory.
“I think a lot of people after seeing us lose a couple of games were kind of like, ‘They’re not as good as they were last year,’” said 6-foot-5 freshman Jyare Davis, who led the Warriors with 26 points and 12 rebounds. “Maybe that is true, but I think we still have a chance to win a state championship this year.”
Just like they did last year, when Sanford collected its eighth DIAA title. But Delaware Player of the Year Mikey Dixon graduated from that team, and the Warriors started two freshmen, a sophomore and two seniors on Thursday.
Sanford lost three games at a tournament in Potomac, Md., by an average of 22.3 points two weekends ago, then lost 72-47 to Archbishop Wood of Warminster, Pa., here on Wednesday night. But when the Warriors got back in the ring with a Delaware opponent, it was a different story.
Smyrna (5-2) got off to a hot start, as Jaymeir Garnett hit a 14-footer and Anthony Watson dropped a deep 3-pointer and two more buckets for a 9-2 lead. But Sanford got a corner 3 from Ryan Friedman and running jumper from Connor Rufo to pull within 9-7 after one quarter.
“I think guys were actually beginning to press a little bit,” Warriors coach Stan Waterman said. “I think you saw that in the first quarter, coming off a four-game losing streak, really having not played well. But they maintained their composure, they stayed with it and began to execute a little bit better.”
Davis hit two free throws, Rufo popped off a screen for a layup and Davis drained a 3 off Rufo’s assist as Sanford closed the second quarter on a 7-2 run for a 30-23 halftime lead.
“Now he’s one of the older guys, and we need him to step up and be one of the major cogs,” Waterman said of Rufo, a senior who complemented Davis with 11 points. “Today was probably the first time we’ve seen it from him this year, but that’s the kind of effort we have to get from him.”
They got more of it in the third quarter, as Rufo hit a 3 from the left corner to blunt a Smyrna rally and push the margin back to 42-36.
“They were double teaming Jyare, and it just so happened I was open in the corner and I knocked it down,” Rufo said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
The Warriors scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to put it away. Corey Perkins dropped a 3 from the left wing, Davis hit a running floater off a steal and Marcus McCollum’s fast-break layup made it 49-36 with 6:37 to go.
Waterman said the key was slowing Eagles sharpshooter Caleb Matthews. The junior led Smyrna with 15 points, but seven came in the final 3:34 as he went 5 of 13 from the field and 1 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“We wanted to be intentional about not letting Matthews get started,” Waterman said. “I thought if we could keep him under control, everybody else we may be able to cancel out.”
Smyrna, which also lost to Bishop McNamara of Forestville, Md., 52-49 on Tuesday, was left to regroup.
“We got a healthy dose of adversity down here this week, which is great,” Eagles coach Andrew Mears said. “It will give us something to work on and some ways to just kind of retool, reset and refocus as we move forward.”
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.
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