Dover can’t close out tense title game in loss to Sanford

Dover’s Elijah Allen and Eden Davis comfort each other after losing to Sanford in the Boys State Basketball Final at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

NEWARK — For just a moment, Dover High could see the promised land.

The Senators weren’t up by much. But they were up on top-seeded Sanford in the closing minutes and had any number of chances to really put the Warriors on the ropes.

Sanford never budged, though, scoring the go-ahead basket with only 29.9 seconds left and then getting an insurance basket off a steal with just seven seconds remaining.

Finally, when Eden Davis’ heavily contested three-point shot at the buzzer hit off the rim, Dover’s boys’ basketball program had yet another crushing DIAA state tournament loss to add to its collection.

Sanford denied the Senators’ state title dreams by a score of 48-45 in a tense struggle played before a sellout crowd of 4,500 at the Carpenter Center.

Sanford celebrates winning the DIAA boys’ basketball final at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

While the state crown was the ninth for Sanford, the small, private school in Hockessin, Dover fell to 0-5 all-time in state finals. The fact that the loss also spoiled a perfect season for the Senators (24-1) was just a little more salt in their wound.

“We know we should have won,” junior guard Eden Davis said quietly outside Dover’s locker room. “It was right there. … I don’t know. It was right in our hands.”

“I’m so proud of them,” teary-eyed Senators’ coach Stephen Wilson said about his players. “I’m proud of their effort and the way they represented their community, their families and the school district.

“I told them, we just didn’t finish the job. We were a few seconds away from finishing the job but they should be proud of what they’ve done and how they brought the city together.”

“What a high school game,” said coach Stan Waterman, who won his seventh state crown with Sanford. “Worthy of a championship.

Dover’s head coach Stephen Wilson gives his players instructions during a time out against Sanford in the fourth quarter. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I think both teams played really well and it was a lot of fun. I don’t think we could have gotten a better championship game. What a weekend for high school basketball in our state. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

In a battle that featured 11 lead changes and eight ties, Dover led by as many as four points in the fourth quarter. The last of those four-point leads was at 42-38 with 4:24 remaining.

The Senators then missed three straight foul shots. That included the front end of a one-and-one when they were leading 42-39 with 2:10 on the clock.

After the Warriors (20-4) ran off five straight points to forge a 44-42 lead, Dover’s Elijah Allen (19 points) drove the lane for a basket and was fouled.

The junior guard sank the free throw for a three-point play that put the Senators ahead, 45-44 with one minute remaining.

Dover’s Elijah Allen shoots against Sanford’s Nnanna Njoku in the third quarter. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

On Sanford’s ensuing possession, Allen was trying to save a blocked shot under the basket but the ball went to the Warriors’ Jyare Davis (14 points), who laid it in to give Sanford a 46-45 advantage with 29.9 seconds remaining.

After a timeout, the crowd rose to its feet as the Senators brought the ball upcourt. As Dover starting running its offense, though, Sanford’s Hassan Perkins came up with a steal.

Perkins got the ball to teammate Ryan McKeon who fired a long pass to Corey Perkins, who scored a layup with seven seconds remaining to give the Warriors their 48-45 lead.

“That was huge,” Waterman said about the steal. “We hang our hat on our defense. We said in our last timeout, if we’re going to win a championship, it’ll be won on the defensive end. I was really proud of that possession.”

The Senators got the ball to midcourt and called timeout with 3.6 seconds left. But Davis’ missed three at the buzzer sealed Dover’s fate.

The Warriors sprinted upcourt in celebration as their fans roared.

The most glaring stat for their Senators was their 7-for-15 foul shooting for the game. It was surprising largely because Dover had been almost perfect in a semifinal win over Caravel on Thursday, going 30-of-32 on free throws.

Dover’s Wanya Wise has his jersey grabbed by Sanford’s Devin Harris while battling under the boards. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Davis and Allen, who were 24-for-24 from the foul line against Caravel, were only 6-for-11 on Saturday.

To be fair, the Warriors actually missed more foul shots — they were 11-for-20.

While the Senators’ execution was less than perfect, nobody questioned their effort on Saturday.

“We played hard,” said Davis. “Everybody played hard. I think we represented our city very well.”

“We just didn’t finish strong as a team,” said Allen. “That’s a great team on the other side. It was a great game, that’s all I can say.”

Free throws

The Senators had lost their last three title games by exactly 10 points each. Saturday’s loss was the closest since Dover’s controversial one-point loss to Wilmington in 1972. … Dover forced Sanford into 16 turnovers while committing only seven itself. … Both teams made 17 field goals, with the Senators hitting four threes and the Warriors sinking three. … Private schools have now won eight of the last 10 boys’ state titles. … Sanford swept both the girls’ and boys’ state crowns for the third time. Sanford is the only school to accomplish the feat.

 

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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