Dover boys bounce back from tough start

 

Dover Senators head coach Stephen Wilson directing his team from the sidelines during game at the Slam Dunk To The Beach tournament. ( Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Stephen Wilson didn’t know how his young players would react to being 0-3.

Would they just give up on the season and pack it in?

“Actually, they asked me to stop asking that question,” admitted the Dover High boys’ basketball coach. “They all had bought in.”

Sure enough, the Senators started stringing some victories together.

The next thing Dover’s players knew, they had won four games in a row and were back on steady footing. While the Senators lost to Valley Forge Military in the bracket finals in the Governor’s Challenge in Salisbury, Maryland, they start the new year with a record of 4-4.

Dover (2-3 North) will dive back into its Henlopen Northern Division schedule by hosting Cape Henlopen (3-1, 6-2) today at 6:45 p.m.

It will be the Senators’ first contest in 10 days.

Wilson liked the way his players dealt with the early-season adversity.

“They wanted to keep coming back and working,” he said. “They never stopped. I can appreciate that.”

A year after finishing 9-11, Dover is still young. Three of the Senators’ top scorers are sophomores Elijah Allen, Eden Davis and Javon Peace.

But Wilson thinks they’re starting to figure some things out.

“We were able to practice, we were able to look at film,” he said. “They were open to the constructive criticism that I was giving them — as well as the good feedback. They also have people that have been in their corner. It helps when you have a lot of your classmates not giving up on you.”

On the court, said Wilson, Dover has stopped turning over the ball so much. It also out-rebounded a pair of taller squads in the Salisbury tournament.

Wilson said he asked other coaches how they deal with their players, especially when things aren’t going well. He gave the Senators more rest but also made sure they kept up with weight lifting.

“And they’re getting to know each other a lot more, too,” said Wilson. “I think one of the turning points is I had them over to the house. We made a bet during our intrasquad scrimmage. The losing team had to serve the other team tacos.

“We’ve been doing the little things. I’ve been watching other teams practice and seeing the things they do after they lose — and not necessarily doing the same things I was doing with the other teams that I’ve had.”

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Senators, though.

After hosting Sussex Tech on Friday night, Dover plays eight of its final 10 regular-season contests on the road. In their final 12 games, the Senators face Cape Henlopen twice while also taking on Smyrna, Caesar Rodney and William Penn.

Last year marked only the second time Dover has missed making the DIAA state tournament since at least 2009.

“We’ve got to be able to defend,” said Wilson. “If we can defend those guys the way we defended some of those guys over the Christmas break, I don’t see why we can’t put ourselves in position to win. It all comes down to execution.”

Notes

•Smyrna’s Caleb Matthews was named to the Slam Dunk to the Beach All-Tournament team. The senior guard was joined by Jalen Carey (Immaculate Conception), Jake Forrester (Westtown), Juwan Gary (Gray Collegiate), Mason Hooks (Harvard-Westlake), Cam Reddish (Westtown) and Simi Shittu (Vermont).

Matthews posted a triple-double with 24 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over Howard before netting 19 points in a loss to Roselle (N.J.) Catholic.

•Friday’s Cape Henlopen at Smyrna boys’ game will be carried on 105.9-FM.

•The Caesar Rodney girls’ squad, which travels to Sussex Tech tonight, hasn’t played a home game since Dec. 21. The Riders aren’t slated to play at home again until they host Polytech on Jan. 19.

•The Polytech girls take a five-game winning streak into tonight’s home game against Smyrna. The Panthers need just two more victories to match last year’s total of seven.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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