FTs key as Smyrna nips Woodbridge 63-59 in boys tourney 2nd round

Smyrna’s Nalik Veasley-Johnson shoots against Woodbridge in the second quarter at Smyrna on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — Caleb Matthews isn’t perfect from the foul line.

The Smyrna High senior proved that by missing a free throw early in Thursday night’s game.

Still, with the game on the line, most coaches would be happy to have the All-Stater at the foul line for them.

That was Eagles’ coach Andrew Mears’ strategy in the final minute and it paid off in No. 3 Smyrna’s tense 63-59 victory over No. 14 Woodbridge in the second round of the DIAA boys’ basketball state tournament.

With Smyrna leading just 60-59, the Eagles ran off about 40 seconds, keeping the ball in the hands of either Matthews or fellow guard Greg Bloodsworth. The Blue Raiders finally fouled Matthews with 24.3 seconds left and he calmly swished both free throws to give Smyrna a 62-59 advantage.

Woodbridge then had a contested three-pointer hit off the rim with 11 seconds remaining. Bloodsworth sank one of two foul shots with 6.2 remaining to seal defending state champion Smyrna’s trip to the Carpenter Center for Saturday’s state quarterfinals.

“Missing one’s not really going to shake my confidence,” said Matthews, who went

Smyrna’s Caleb Matthews drives to the basket against sWoodbridge’s Kejon Mosley in the first quarter at Smyrna on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

4-for-5 from the line and netted 16 points. “I’ve shot too many.

“They (Woodbridge) come out every night and play hard from start to finish. They made, it seemed like, every shot. … It was an exciting game but a little too close for comfort for me.”

It was the fourth time the two downstate squads have squared off in the last two seasons — with two Henlopen Conference championship game appearances followed by two state tourney meetings. The Eagles (20-3) have won all four games but this was probably the toughest one yet.

Despite falling behind 11-0 to start the contest, the South champion Raiders battled all the way to take the lead three times in the second half. Undersized Woodbridge sank 11 three-pointers, including seven in the first half.

“We knew exactly what we were getting,” said Mears, whose team has won its last five state tourney games. “We knew it was going to be a four-quarter battle.

“A lot of credit to those guys,” he said about Woodbridge. “They play extremely hard and extremely tough throughout the entire game. It’s just two teams battled their tails off. We happened to make a few more plays at the end and get the win.”

Smyrna’s Isaiah Wilson battles for a rebound against Woodbridge’s Hassan Corbin in the second quarter at Symrna on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

In a second half that featured six lead changes and two ties, Smyrna took the lead for good at 60-59 when Matthews made a pair of foul shots with 3:31 still remaining.

Neither team could take charge over the next few minutes as the Eagles missed two shots with a turnover while Woodbridge missed its final five shots from the floor with two turnovers.

“Credit to them, that’s a good team — and they’ve been good,” said Raiders’ coach Julius Cannon. “They’re going to make shots.

“I liked that we fought to the end. It’s our hard work all season. It showed tonight. We never quit. We’re going to give it our best shot no matter who we play. I’m proud of them for that.”

Despite Woodbridge’s slow start, the two teams combined for 14 first-half three-pointers.

Bloodsworth had 16 of his team-high 21 points by intermission. He and Matthews both hit four threes in the game.

The Raiders countered with five threes from Kejon Mosley (19 points) and three from Troy Haynes (13). Mosley and Haynes netted 11 first-half points each to get Woodbridge back within 35-31 at halftime.

Smyrna’s Gregory Bloodsworth shoots against Woodbridge in the second quarter at Smyrna on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Senior Hassan Corbin, who scored 28 points against Smyrna in last Friday’s conference title game, had a game-high 22 more on Thursday. A long-range three by Corbin from the top of the key gave the Raiders their first lead at 53-51 just before the end of the third quarter.

Woodbridge led by as much as 55-51 with 6:34 remaining in the game.

Smyrna gets another rematch on Saturday when it faces Henlopen North rival Sussex Tech at 6 p.m. at the Carpenter Center in Newark. The Eagles beat the Ravens twice during the regular season but — as Woodbridge proved on Thursday — that doesn’t Smyrna can just show up and expect to win again.

“I’ve played Tech eight times now so it should be a tough game,” said Matthews. “Everybody knows what everybody’s doing. So it’s whoever goes out there and executes their game plan better.”

“Like you saw tonight, once the ball goes up in there, it’s a battle,” said Mears. “Our job is just to survive and advance.

“When you talk about ‘The Bob (Carpenter Center), that’s on the top of everybody’s goals,” said Mears. “To actually be there is definitely special. You never overlook that.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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