WOODSIDE — It was one of those gritty, down-to-the-wire dogfights that either team could have won.
Cheston Boyd expected nothing less.
But, just like last year in the DIAA boys’ basketball state tournament, St. Thomas More made enough plays when it really mattered.
And, because they did, the second-seeded Ravens are headed back to the Carpenter Center after out-dueling No. 15 St. Mark’s, 43-42, in the state tourney’s second round at Polytech on Friday night.
A year after the small Magnolia school made its first appearance in the state quarterfinals, St. Thomas More (18-3) will be there again on Sunday when it faces 10th-seeded Appoquinmink (15-7) at 2:45 p.m. in the Carpenter Center.
Boyd, St. Thomas More’s coach, thought the Ravens’ tournament experience made a difference down the stretch. St. Thomas More needed overtime to get past the Spartans (16-6) in a first-round tourney matchup last season.
“The game was just what I thought it would be,” said Boyd. “It’s St. Mark’s so we knew those guys would be very disciplined.
“You know they’re going to fight. … It’s tournament ball. We’re not looking for blowouts, we’re looking just to advance.”
The Ravens were clinging to a two-point lead and just missed a shot when the Spartans’ Chris Ludman drove downcourt in the final 20 seconds. But St. Thomas More’s De’Markus Lee reached in and knocked the ball loose.
It eventually ended up in the corner where several players dove on it. The possession arrow belonged to the Ravens, who inbounded the ball to junior Alvin West, who was fouled with 4.5 seconds remaining.
West calmly sank both free throws to give St. Thomas More a 43-39 cushion — which was huge when St. Mark’s Ludman (13 points) swished a three-pointer at the final buzzer.
The Ravens’ student section happily rushed the floor to celebrate the hard-earned victory that featured 13 lead changes and three ties.
“I’ve got to make this, do it for the team,” West said he was thinking when he went to the line. “It feels good (going back to the Carpenter Center). It feels like where we’re supposed to be.
“We’re always going to be doubted. That’s the doubt that gives us the motivation to continue to push forward.”
St. Thomas More, which overcame a 22-17 halftime deficit, got a team-high 15 points from senior Eric Montanez and 10 from classmate Corey Gordon.
A driving layup by Gordon with 4:44 remaining gave the Ravens the lead for good at 35-33 left. St. Thomas More forced St. Mark’s into four turnovers in the final three minutes.
A first-year player for the Ravens, Montanez wasn’t part of last year’s tournament run. He’s helped make up for the loss of two of St. Thomas More’s top players, Aaron Scott and Elias Revelle, who are both sidelined.
“We still play with a chip on our shoulder,” said Montanez. “We play for them (Scott and Revelle) each and every game. We know how much they helped us. We just go out and do the best we can do to get a win.”
“I give a lot of credit to these guys,” Boyd said about his players. “These guys have been amazing in making the adjustment. In my opinion, any other team that lost two potential All-State big men probably would tank. But we came out and finished the season strong.”
St. Thomas More will take a 15-game winning streak with it into Sunday’s quarterfinals. But, after facing only 12 in-state schools during the regular season, the Ravens remain something of a mystery in Delaware.
Certainly they weren’t considered an overpowering No. 2 seed going into the tournament. Boyd knows St. Thomas More will just have to keep proving itself.
“I told our guys, the seeding means nothing if you don’t back it up,” he said. “At this point, there’s no seeds in our locker room. We’re stepping on the court with a team that deserves to be in the playoffs just like us, so we’ve got to respect them as such.”
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