NEWARK — As Jaymeir Garnett climbed the ladder to cut down the net at the Bob Carpenter Center, the Smyrna High students broke into a chant.
“M.V.P., M.V.P., M.V.P.,” was the refrain by the Eagles’ cheering section.
The DIAA does not give out a Most Valuable Player award for state championship games, but if it did, there’s no doubt who it would have belonged to.
Garnett, Smyrna’s sophomore power forward, delivered a dominant performance in the Eagles’ 61-53 state title victory over Caravel on Saturday afternoon.
He recorded his second-straight double-double with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds.
“He played like a beast,” senior Iyair Hinson-Purnell said about Garnett. “He wanted it and got it.”
In the bright spotlight of the Carpenter Center, Garnett played likely his two best games of the year.
His double-double on Saturday surpassed what he did on Thursday in the semifinals against St. Georges. He had 16 points and 12 rebounds in that victory.
Garnett started as a freshman last season for Smyrna when the Eagles fell in the quarterfinals to Mount Pleasant. Thinking about that loss helped motivate Garnett for this tournament run to guide Smyrna to its first ever boys’ basketball state title.
“I knew when I got here I had to play all out,” Garnett said. “I didn’t want what happened last year to happen this year.”
“The guy plays with a lot of passion,” said Smyrna coach Andrew Mears. “I’m very proud of that young man. He’s put a lot of time and effort into building his game and his character. To see him perform on this stage is something special.”
The most striking part of Garnett’s line was how efficient he was. He made 14 of his 20 shot attempts.
“We knew coming into this game they were severely undersized so our gameplan was to get the ball inside,” said junior guard Caleb Matthews. “We got him the ball in a lot of good positions to score the ball.”
Eight of Garnett’s 28 points came after Caravel had tied the game at 41-41 in the fourth quarter.
When Caravel made it a one-possession game at 48-45, Garnett responded by faking a handoff to Matthews in the post and driving in for an open layup. He then scored back-to-back buckets from the low block to increase Smyrna’s advantage to 57-45, capping off a 9-0 late Smyrna run.
“They started their comeback then we shut them up and smacked them right in the mouth,” Garnett said. “That’s what I like about this team. We can do that.”
Of course like the rest of the Eagles Garnett’s game was helped out this year by the addition of 7-footer Zubi Nwankwo who transferred to Smyrna before the season.
The two combine for one of the tallest front courts in the state and Nwankwo contributed 13 rebounds with three blocked shots in the championship.
“With Zubi, Jaymeir didn’t have to guard the biggest guy on the floor anymore,” Mears said. “He’s a big guy but he’s a guard at heart. So he was relieved when Zubi came here.”
“It freed me up to do a lot,” Garnett said. “People worry about Caleb ’cause he can go off but they’re also worried about Zubi because of how big he is. I’m back there between them and hustle to try to get points for the team.”
And with Nwankwo, Matthews and Garnett all returning next season, another state championship for Smyrna is quite possible.
“Next year, a repeat in 2018,” Garnett said with a big smile.
Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at firstname.lastname@example.org