WILMINGTON — In all three of its DIAA state tournament games, the Smyrna High boys’ basketball team has trailed in the first half.
The Eagles have developed a knack for overcoming those deficits.
Elijah Credle scored all 16 of his points in the second half to lead a Smyrna rally as the sixth-seeded Eagles knocked off No. 3 Howard 59-50 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday night. It is the third semifinal berth for Smyrna since 2017.
“We’re a team that never gives up,” Credle said. “We have zero losses but we still experience adversity so we know how to keep pushing.”
Smyrna (18-0) will put its undefeated record to the test in the semifinals against the tournament’s second seed Salesianum (12-3). The semifinal matchup will be played at Salesianum at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Howard led by as much as 34-27 early in the third quarter Tuesday before a 10-1 run by Smyrna gave the Eagles their first lead since the first quarter.
Credle netted 10 of Smyrna’s first 12 points in the second half. He brought the Eagles within one on a layup through contact after a Howard turnover before Olumuyiwa “Moo” Salako’s putback put Smyrna on top 36-35. The Eagles would not trail the rest of the way.
Salako added 13 points for the Eagles despite having to be removed from the game with an injury on the first play of the third quarter. Salako was fouled hard under the basket and landed on his lower back.
“I did something to my tailbone,” Salako said. “I was trying to slide on it and it was hurting. I honestly didn’t know if I could come back. But I had to, I couldn’t go out on my team like that. It definitely was scary.”
Salako’s free throws on the final possession of the third quarter broke a 40-40 tie and gave Smyrna the lead for good.
The Eagles pulled away thanks to a spurt midway through the fourth where they scored on seven-straight possessions — a layup by Credle, a layup by Devin DeMoe, a three-pointer from Majesti Carter, a floater by Robert Wiley, another layup from Credle and one free throw by Salako.
DeMoe finished the game as the third Eagle in double figures with 12 points. Lish Gregory and Wiley contributed six points apiece.
Smyrna coach Andrew Mears credited Howard’s press for putting the Eagles off their rhythm in the first half. But the Eagles were able to find a way to solve that defense in the second half.
“For how quick and tenacious their defense can be, it took us really a few quarters to catch up to that speed and to find ourselves once we did,” Mears said. “Yeah it was a little sloppy, but how you get to the end is never easy.”
“This team is relentless and they don’t quit,” Mears added. “In our first three rounds we’ve faced adversity, whether foul trouble or the scoreboard. Every single time we saw our group rally together and get it done.”