BRANDYWINE HUNDRED — This Caesar Rodney High boys’ basketball team knows a thing or two about rough starts.
After all, the Riders lost their first six games of the season. Yet, they still managed to make the postseason.
So Freeman Williams knew his team wouldn’t quit when it was down by as much as 21 points in its first-round matchup.
Williams was right, as the Riders rallied to make it a one-possession game in the final minutes.
Time ran out on Caesar Rodney’s season, though, as Concord made its free throws down the stretch for a 51-42 victory in the opening game of the DIAA boys’ basketball tournament on Wednesday night.
The 11th-seeded Raiders advance to play No. 6 St. Georges on Friday night.
“It’s been the character of the kids all season,” Williams said of the comeback. “When it looks like there’s nothing positive, our kids compete and battle. We’re really proud of the effort in the second half. When it looked like there was no light of day, our kids kept battling.
“A lot of kids would have given up at 0-6, but they came ready to work every day. That’s a life lesson they can take with them.”
Concord’s lead was as large as 37-16 in the third quarter. Caesar Rodney, seeded 22nd, answered with a 26-8 run to pull within 45-42 on sophomore Davione Robinson’s layup with 43 seconds left.
Those would be the last points CR would score, as Concord hit six straight free throws to close the game out.
Caesar Rodney (8-13) fell into the big hole thanks to a woeful shooting display in the first half. The Riders hit just 2-of-25 shot attempts from the floor before halftime, which allowed Concord to outscore them 19-5 in the second quarter.
“I think if we’re able to get off to a better start and get momentum earlier we could have taken control,” Williams said. “But it didn’t happen. Our Achilles heel all season has been putting the ball in the basket. I think the first half was just inexperience. I think we were a little jittery.”
The Riders could have taken the lead during their big run in the second half if not for the efforts of Concord senior Danny Wise, who scored all eight of the Raiders’ points during the 26-8 run by CR.
“Coach always talks to us about stepping up as seniors,” Wise said. “My guys believe in me and I believe in them. I try to step up and take imitative to make big shots and make big plays.”
Caesar Rodney first got within single digits on Robinson’s three-pointer with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter, before Wise nailed a pull-up jumper to put Concord back ahead by 10 at 44-34.
The Riders then scored the next six points. Junior Nhaighere Wills banked in a three from the wing and Jayvon Palmer followed with one-of-two free throws before he converted a twisting layup from the baseline.
“We relaxed in the wrong way,” Wise said. “We started letting things fly, letting guys drive by us and get easy shots. Coach called a timeout and we noticed we had to keep playing like we were in the first half. After that, we were good and we knocked free throws down.”
Wise was the game’s top scorer with 20 points. Robinson paced CR with 17 points and Palmer added 11.
Williams was quick to point out after the contest he will return a majority of this team for next season. The Riders have two seniors on the roster, Wontrell Hammond and Jordaan Brummell. The starting lineup on Wednesday night was made up of all underclassmen.
“We have two seniors that we love to death,” Williams said. “With all of our sophomores and juniors coming back, I’m just glad they got a taste of what it means to be in the tournament. You can talk about it all you want but experience is the best teacher.”