Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery
CAMDEN — Looking back now, Bill Victory still doesn’t know how Caesar Rodney High got by Howard last year.
Despite being the higher seeded, the Riders needed overtime to edge the Wildcats in the DIAA girls’ basketball state tournament.
With just a two-point halftime lead over Howard on Thursday night, it looked like the Riders might be heading for a similar nail-biting finish.
This time, however, No. 2 CR turned up its defense, pulling away in the second half for a 59-39 victory over the 15th-seeded Wildcats in the second round of the state tourney.
The Riders (21-1) limited Howard (15-7) to just nine second-half points — including none in the third quarter — and got a game-high 25 points from sophomore Kylie Kornegay-Lucas to earn their second straight trip to the state quarterfinals.
CR gets a rematch with No. 7 St. Elizabeth on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the Carpenter Center in Newark.
“They’re a great team,” Victory said about Howard. “They’re big and athletic and they played with us for a while. I just didn’t feel like they could do that with us the whole game.
“I thought we kept pushing the tempo and they got in foul trouble. Then we kind of stepped on the gas a little bit.”
Leading just 32-30 at intermission, the Riders outscored Howard only 6-0 in the third quarter to open up a 38-30 advantage. But a three-pointer from Brionna Brooks pushed CR’s lead to 44-30 before the Wildcats finally scored their first second-half points with only 6:14 remaining in the contest.
At one point, the Riders had outscored Howard 22-4 in the second half as their lead ballooned to 20 points.
CR forced the Wildcats into 35 turnovers, including 13 in the third quarter.
“We were hustling throughout the game and making our layups,” said Kornegay-Lucas, who had several steals. “I thought our defense was really good — especially our press. We got a lot of fastbreaks.”
Victory said he also made some adjustments later in game, going to a matchup zone in the fourth quarter.
At times, the Riders spread the floor on offense, forcing Howard to come out and play them. CR also got 15 points from Alissa Haith and nine from Brooks.
Kornegay-Lucas, the youngster whose family moved from California before this season, is starting to make bigger and bigger contributions for the Riders. Before her 25 points on Thursday, she netted a team-high 23 points in CR’s Henlopen Conference championship game win over Laurel last Friday.
“She couldn’t figure it out early (in the season),” said Victory. “She was kind of feeling her way. But she’s a different animal now.”
Victory knows things will only get more difficult on Saturday with St. Elizabeth standing in the Riders’ path to the state semifinals.
CR edged the Vikings, 50-48, in Camden on Dec. 12 but only after Brooks hit a three just before the final buzzer of regulation to send the game to overtime.
“That win earlier, they might use that as a motivation,” said Victory. “But, for me, that team that we played back then and the team we’re going to play right now are two different teams. And so are we.
“I respect them. We’ll see what we can do.”
“We have to play hard and not make stupid mistakes,” said Kornegay-Lucas. “It should be a good game.”
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