The state's top-ranked team pulls away from Vikings with fourth quarter surge to win 52-36

When Cape Henlopen pulled to within eight points in the fourth quarter of tonight's boys basketball game, the Smyrna Eagles soared to another level to clinch the Northern Division title in front of their home fans.

With the 52-36 victory, Smyrna improved to 11-0 in the division and can't be caught with one division game left against Dover. The Vikings entered the game 8-2 in the division and needed to beat the Eagles, win their last division game and hope for Smyrna to lose its final game to force a tie-breaker for the title.

Smyrna led 25-16 at halftime in a defensive struggle, and extended the advantage to 35-24 at the end of the third quarter.

Then in the fourth, the Vikings started chipping away.

After Cape hit a three-pointer to make the score 39-31 with 6:16 left to play, Smyrna's defense clamped down, while the Eagles' offense caught fire.

Smyrna's Caleb Matthews started a 9-0 run with a basket in the lane for a 41-31 lead.

After a block by Smyrna's Zubui Nwankwo, the Eagles fouled a Cape player but he missed the front end of a one-and-one and Nwankwo grabbed the rebound.

Smyrna missed on three shots in the lane and then fouled a Cape player, but he missed the free throw.

Nwankwo scored a lay-up on a sharp pass from Matthews to give the Eagles a 43-31 advantage.

Then it was Anthony Watson time.

Watson broke away for a slam dunk to ignite the home crowd, and then knocked down a three-pointer to put the Eagles up 48-31 with 3:24 left in the game.

After a Cape basket, Watson struck again, driving the baseline and leaping from one side of the backboard to the other, scoring  on a reverse lay-up.

With the score 50-33 at the 1:16 mark, Cape's coach put in his reserves and Smyrna followed.

Matthews led the Eagles with 16 points, while Jaymeir Garnett netted 14, and Watson hit for 12 including those seven in a row in the fourth quarter. 

Nwankwo scored nine and Iyair Hinson-Purnell added a free throw for the Eagles who improved to 16-2 overall.

Smyrna is ranked #1 in the state by The News Journal.

Eagles coach Andrew Mears said the low-scoring, tightly contested game played to his team's strength.

"We hang our hats on our defense," said Mears. "When we play our brand of basketball, we get quality shots on offense and force a one-and-done on the defensive end."

Mears said Watson gave the Eagles' offense the spark it needed in the fourth quarter.

"That's what he's been doing all year," said Mears. "That was the difference in the first game we played against Cape this year. He always seems to pick the most pivotal moment. He doesn't force anything. He picks his spot and scores."

SENIOR NIGHT THIS FRIDAY

The Eagles will honor their seniors this Friday, Feb. 17 against Dover in the final regular season home game at 7:15 p.m.

Smyrna travels to A.I. du Pont for the last game of the regular season on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6:15 p.m.

Then the Eagles will play in the Henlopen Conference championship game, probably against current Southern Division leader Woodbridge.