Photos special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh
SMYRNA — It rained three-pointers at Smyrna High School Friday night.
In a second-round DIAA boys’ basketball match-up against No. 12 Milford, the No. 5 Smyrna Eagles dropped 10 three-pointers on the way to a 71-38 victory.
Junior Caleb Matthews led the way for Smyrna’s high-scoring offense, dropping a game-high 27 points. He made five of those 10 three-point shots.
Smyrna will move on to face No. 4 Woodbridge in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.
“We got a lot of resistance from them early on, and we thought we would,” said Smyrna head coach Andrew Mears. “That’s a well-coached team with the leadership of Brion Murray. He’s a terrific player, I’m proud of his career. He’s put together a good four years at Milford.
“But credit to our guys, they stuck to the game plan and didn’t panic after they made so many shots in the first quarter. We just played our brand of basketball.”
Smyrna wasn’t the only team hitting shots from long-range.
Milford enjoyed a fast start, putting up the first points with a Brion Murray three-pointer at the 7:05 mark of the opening quarter. By the end of the first quarter, Milford held a 14-11 lead thanks to four three-pointers from Murray, sophomore Daniel Shockley (two) and senior Tymire Riddick.
Milford remained ahead until Smyrna’s Azubuike Nwankwo grabbed an alley-oop pass and slammed down a dunk with 3:05 left in the half. The dunk, in addition to pumping up the home crowd, allowed the Eagles to take the 19-18 lead. Twenty-three seconds later an Anthony Watson three-pointer extended the lead to four points.
Milford sophomore Jaxson Turner responded with a three-point jump-shot of his own, but the Bucs failed to regain the lead for the remainder of the game.
At the half, Smyrna held a 27-21 lead and carried that momentum into the second half.
Out-scoring the Buccaneers 24-10 in the third quarter and 20-7 in the fourth quarter put the finishing touches on a 33-point victory.
Senior Anthony Watson recorded just three points in the first half, but he helped break the game wide open in the third quarter. During Smyrna’s 24-point quarter, Watson put up 13 points and ended the game with 19.
“Both of them are playing very well. Things start with Caleb. He brings the ball up for us, he makes good decision and then Anthony just feeds off that energy. He knows his role and he does a good job,” Mears said.
Nwankwo was a force under the basket for the Eagles all game, reeling in rebounds, blocking shots and racking up 14 points.
“We have a lot of guys who can contribute, and that’s kind of what defines us,” Mears said.
“They just started knocking down shots,” Milford head coach Bob Spath said of Smyrna’s second half. “I thought the tide really started to turn halfway through the second quarter. They started knocking down shots and loosening us up defensively. We started taking a few bad shots. We knocked down a pretty high percentage to start the game. They just got going. That’s a state championship level team.”
For the last two years, Smyrna lost in the quarterfinals round at the Bob. Coach Mears would like to change that this year.
“Our plan going in was to get back to this moment and then see what else we can do,” Mears said.
For Milford, seniors Murray and Riddick recorded 14 and nine points, respectively.
Milford’s strong senior class suited up for the Bucs for the final time, and coach Spath will be sad to see them go.
“This group of seniors were here when I started — they were sophomores,” Spath said. “They’ve been the catalysts for putting all of our coaching philosophies in place and really buying in to what we do. They laid the groundwork for the next generations to come.”