NEWARK – Smyrna High made history Sunday night, then quickly adopted the mindset that there are more barriers to break and heights to hurdle to make a memory that will most endure.
The Eagles advanced to the semifinals for the first time in the 51-year history of the DIAA Boys Basketball Tournament, demonstrating the shot-making know-how and defensive responsiveness necessary for a 63-51 quarterfinal win over Woodbridge at the Carpenter Center in front of 3,366.
Junior guard Caleb Matthews scored 26 points, dealt six assists and blocked three shots for the Eagles, who were 20-for-37 from the field (54.1 percent) and 17-for-22 (77.3 percent) at the foul line.
“It’s a great accomplishment, but we want two more games,” said Smyrna sophomore Jaymeir Garnett, who supplied 12 points and eight rebounds.
Ahead by six at halftime, Smyrna stretched its lead to 50-35 with 5:42 left while Woodbridge made just three of 18 shots to start the second half. The Blue Raiders rallied to within 55-50 with 1:20 to go, but Smyrna’s 11-for-14 aim at the foul line the last 2:11 clinched the victory.
The Eagles thus ended a frustrating run of quarterfinal heartbreak, having lost at this juncture five times in the previous eight state tournaments – in 2009 to Caesar Rodney, 2010 and 2011 to Concord and 2015 and 2016 to Mount Pleasant.
They’ll return for Thursday’s 8 p.m. semifinal against No. 9-seeded St. George’s (19-4), which upset No. 1 Mount Pleasant 64-48. The title game is Saturday at 1 p.m.
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“Winning it all has been our goal since day one,” Matthews said.
No. 5-seeded Smyrna (21-2) has won 16 in a row, including a 61-51 decision over Woodbridge in the Henlopen Conference title game nine days before.
Anthony Watson scored 11 points for Smyrna and 7-footer Azubuike Nwankwo blocked five shots to go along with his eight points and seven rebounds.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, that’s for sure,” Smyrna coach Andrew Mears said. “It feels like it’s been such a tough time getting past this. Sometimes it’s a matter of not just your team but who you match up against and there’s a couple of things that have to kind of happen.
“But once you’re here, you have to take care of business. That’s what these guys did. They just wanted it. Credit to Woodbridge. That team fights. They’re just a team that’s gonna play with you.”
The game came three months and two days after Smyrna and Woodbridge won the respective Division I and II state football championships at neighboring Delaware Stadium.
The Eagles led 18-12 after the first quarter, 32-26 at halftime and 46-35 entering the fourth period. Four straight 3-pointers – two by Te’Vion Waters and one each by Troy Haynes and Kejon Mosley – and Cornell Corbin’s 3-point play got Woodbridge within five. But Smyrna’s free-throw prowess prevented any further comeback.
No. 4 Woodbridge (19-4) was playing in its first state boys basketball quarterfinal since losing to Newark in 2008. The Blue Raiders lost to Newark in their lone state-title game appearance in 1987.
Hassan Corbin supplied 18 points, Waters scored 10 and Cornell Corbin had nine rebounds, six assists and three steals for the Blue Raiders.
But they couldn’t overcome 36.5 percent shooting (19-for-52), including 8-for-30 (26.6 percent) second-half aim, despite getting plenty of close-in looks. Of course, they often encountered Nwankwo there.
Smyrna was 6-for-10 on threes to Woodbridge’s 6-for-22.
“This is one of our goals – not our ultimate goal – to get to and we were able to,” Mears said. “Our message all year has just been to play our brand of basketball. I felt like once we play our brand of basketball, other things will take care of themselves.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.