NEWARK — Mount Pleasant High’s boys’ basketball team was already deeper than Smyrna High’s.
Then situations kept arising that severely tested Smyrna’s depth.
Mount Pleasant’s balanced attack helped the Green Knights end Smyrna’s season, dealing the Eagles a 53-45 defeat in the DIAA state quarterfinals at the Bob Carpenter Center on Sunday afternoon. It is the second consecutive season Mount Pleasant eliminated Smyrna in the quarterfinals.
Smyrna trailed the whole game and was only able to cut the deficit to four points a few times in the second half.
The Eagles spent most of the second half without sophomore Caleb Matthews, who was on the bench saddled with four fouls after picking up three in the first half. They also lost one of their few big men when starting senior center Jerry Williams was ejected on a flagrant foul call in the second quarter.
Leading scorer senior Ja’vier Worthy also missed time in the second half battling an injury.
“We were dealt a tough hand,” said Smyrna coach Andrew Mears. “We were put in some spots that we haven’t seen all year. We tried to respond but it wasn’t good enough against Mount.”
Mount Pleasant (19-3), the fourth seed, advanced to play top seed Sanford (19-2) in the semifinals, which will be held Thursday night at 8 p.m. also at the Bob Carpenter Center on the University of Delaware’s campus. Smyrna, which had the tournament’s fifth seed, wrapped up its season at 18-4.
Worthy ended as the game’s leading scorer with 15 points. and Matthews chipped in 11. Seven different players scored for Mount Pleasant, paced by Raheim Burnett’s 13 and 10 from KVonn Cramer.
“It felt like every time we went on a run they countered back,” Matthews said. “They got a lot of guys so they’re always fresh. We only play six or seven guys and they play 10. They always have fresh legs and it showed.”
Smyrna was hampered by a tough first quarter, where it only scored five as the Green Knights raced out to a 13-5 advantage.
The Eagles pulled within four points for the first time since the first quarter when Worthy drained a three-point to make it 29-25 midway through the third. But the Green Knights answered with a putback bucket by Cramer and a layup by Rob Myrick to reestablish an eight-point lead.
Burnett buried a three for Mount to go up 39-27 on the first possession of the fourth quarter. The Eagles fought back to get within 49-43 with under 2:30 left on a Matthews jumper before Mount Pleasant converted four free throw attempts to end the contest.
“Their effort was never in question we just had a formidable opponent,” Mears said. “They’re well-coached with a lot of athletes and guys who have been in this position before. It was tough all night. We never really got in a rhythm and weren’t able to play the best basketball that we can and that’s a credit to Mount.”
Smyrna will return two members of its starting lineup next season — Matthews and freshman Jaymeir Garnett who had six points and nine rebounds.
“Hopefully next year we can go lot farther than this,” Matthews said.
The Eagles will graduate six seniors from their roster.
“My biggest struggle right now is knowing those kids just played their last high school basketball game,” Mears said. “My thoughts are with the dedication and the time and effort they gave to this team. It’s just tough to see them play their last high school game.”