Caesar Rodney battles past Patriots in second half for DIAA tournament win

Caesar Rodney’s Tyshawn Gordon goes for a layup against Newark Charter during the first round of the state championship at CR on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

CAMDEN — Every team in a state tournament understands what’s at stake.

It’s win or go home.

But being a senior on a state tourney team adds a whole other layer to that.

It’s win or your high school career is over.

That sense of finality wasn’t lost on No. 13 Caesar Rodney, which dug deep in the second half to pull out a 73-64 win over No. 20 Newark Charter in the first round of the DIAA boys’ basketball state tournament on Tuesday night.

The Riders (14-7) overcame deficits of eight points in the second quarter and five in the third to earn a second-round game at No. 4 Laurel (18-3) on Thursday at 7 p.m.

While CR has a number of first-year starters this winter, most of them come from a nucleus of seven seniors who were facing the end of their careers if they didn’t win on Tuesday.

“Last year, you know you still had one more year to come back,” said senior Kamal Marvel. “But, as a senior, once you lose, it’s done so you’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”

Luckily for the Riders, they know they can always count on their defense.

CR forced the Patriots (13-8) into 14 second-half tournaments as they rallied from a 32-27 halftime deficit.

The Riders never trailed after a pair of free throws from senior Braxton Robinson put CR ahead, 38-37, with 4:31 left in the third quarter. But Newark Charter was still within 68-64 when senior Brett Lesher capped off his 25-point night with a three-pointer with 46 seconds still remaining.

Finally, though, CR sank 5-of-6 free throws — including 4-for-4 shooting from junior Brycen Williams — to seal the victory.

“We came out a little slow,” said senior Syed Myles, who netted a team-high 17 points. “But once we all got locked in, you saw what happened. We started playing defense and hitting shots and it went our way.

“We played them (Newark Charter) in the summer and I knew some of the boys on the team. I knew they were going to give us their hardest no matter what.”

Lesher, also a baseball standout, was a particularly difficult matchup for the Riders. He had five dunks in the contest.

CR, though, countered with double-digit scoring from Myles, Robinson (16), junior Juan Jordan (14) and Marvel (10). Jordan, who split his time between varsity and JV this season, gave the Riders a big spark off the bench.

CR also got a boost from senior Brandon Hatch, who was playing in just his second game of the season after returning from a knee injury. Hatch hit a couple big fourth-quarter shots, including a three-pointer that gave the Riders a 66-54 cushion with 3:18 remaining.

“We knew they were a good basketball team,” said CR coach Frank Victory. “I mean, the Lesher kid is a phenomenal athlete who’s going to play baseball in college.

“We have definitely responded to adversity all season long. We found ways to kind of manufacture runs this season. I knew, even though we got off to a slow start, it’s been a two-and-a-half weeks since we played our last game. Shaking off the rust and kind of getting the jitters out, I knew it was going to take them some time.

“But I knew, the way we defend the basketball, that we were going to get enough stops that the offense was going to come eventually. Even though it was a little nerve-wracking — because you don’t want to go down too much — I had confidence in my boys that they were going to come back and make a run.”

The Riders are trying to reach the state quarterfinals for the first time since they made it to the state finals in 2009. Standing in CR’s way is a Southern Division champion Laurel squad that won 16 in a row before falling to Dover in the Henlopen Conference championship game last Friday.

The Bulldogs are playing in the state tournament for the first time since 2017.

“It’s always going to be hard playing a team on their home court,” said Myles. “We’ve got to be ready to play.”

“We try not to pay attention to all that (tournament seeding),” said Marvel. “No matter what our seed is, we’re going to go out there and play whoever they put in front of us. We’re going to go out there and give it our all.”