NEWARK – Smyrna led throughout Saturday's boys state basketball championship game at the Bob Carpenter Center, but Caravel chipped and clawed their way back into it, forging a tie at 41 on a free throw by O'Koye Parker with 6:22 left in the game. But the Eagles asserted themselves after that brief lapse and went on to a 61-53 win and their first state title in the sport.
Two players in particular took over for No. 5 Smyrna, which finished the season with a record of 24-2. Junior guard Caleb Matthews had played effectively throughout the afternoon, but he had been held to just six points through three quarters. He scored 10 in the fourth, including a pair of old-fashioned three-point plays that played a huge role in the outcome. Jaymeir Garnett led the Eagles with 28 points.
Matthews' first three-point play came immediately after Parker tied the game. Caravel nearly picked up a steal, and a held ball went to Smyrna. Matthews hit a short jumper and was fouled, and his free throw made it 44-41. A few minutes later, with the score 50-45 Eagles, he drove the lane left of the hoop and kissed a teardrop high off the backboard. It was good, and his free throw extended the lead to eight. That was part of a 9-0 run that put the game away for Smyrna.
Caravel trailed by 11 midway through the second quarter, but the 19th-seeded Buccaneers were not about to give up on their Cinderella dreams. The comeback was led by probable first-team all-state selection Parker, who scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half. The state's leading scorer put his team on his back as Caravel looked to add Smyrna to its list of upset victims in the tournament.
The Buccaneers were at a distinct height disadvantage, and the Eagles exploited that throughout the game. Zubi Nwankwo, the 7-2 transfer center, scored eight points inside, including two on an impressive two-handed slam off an inbounds pass from Matthews. Nwankwo led the team with 13 rebounds, and he forced Caravel to alter several shots merely with his presence. Smyrna blocked eight shots in the game.
Garnett, the Eagles' former center, added 11 rebounds, but he did much of his damage in the scoring column. He made 14 of 20 shot attempts, mostly inside. His back-to-back field goals late in the fourth lifted Smyrna to its largest lead of the day at 12 with just over a minute to go.
The Eagles completed the season with a 17-game winning streak, not including a win in the Henlopen Conference title game. Their lone losses both occurred at Slam Dunk to the Beach, first against Bishop McNamara (Md.), then against Sanford.
By adding the basketball trophy, Smyrna is continuing a fantastic year athletically for the school. In early December, the football team won its second consecutive state championship next door to the Bob Carpenter Center at Delaware Stadium. The Eagles' wrestling team also finished a close second in wrestling.
Trevon Alderman added 10 points for Caravel, which ended the season at 18-7. The Buccaneers' season may have ended on a disappointing note, but there is no denying the progress the program has made under coach Mark Tobin. Two seasons ago, the team was 3-17.
This year, just to reach the final, the small private school defeated four higher seeds, including Hodgson and Salesianum on the road, and Sanford and St. Thomas More at the Bob. With just two seniors graduating – neither of whom was a starter – the Bucs look to make another deep run next season.