Lake Forest collapses down stretch, falls to Christiana 61-52 in boys tourney opener

Mike Starkey

CHRISTIANA — With three minutes left, Lake Forest High certainly wasn’t in control.

But with a five-point lead, the Spartans weren’t in bad shape, either.

And then the bottom fell out.

Fifteen-seeded Christiana reeled off the final 14 points of the game to win going away, 61-52, over No. 18 Lake Forest in the first round of the DIAA boys’ basketball state tournament on Tuesday night.

By avenging a 21-point loss to the Spartans (15-7) in the opening round of last year’s tourney, the Vikings (13-7) earned a trip to Dover to face the second-seeded Senators (21-0) on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Lake coach Mike Starkey was at a loss to explain how the contest got away from the Spartans down the stretch.

“I really thought our habits were good enough to advance us,” he said. “And our habits were what failed us tonight.

“Sometimes that happens with young players. But, at this point of the season, you can’t really call a sophomore a sophomore. They’re juniors. I think we just lost our heads and never really settled in.”

After grabbing a 21-20 halftime lead, Lake Forest never trailed again until the closing minutes.

The Spartans went up by as many as six points in the third quarter and were still in front, 52-47, when Jaysem Vazquez (17 points) drove in for a basket with 3:08 remaining.

Christiana did hit its final four shots from the floor as well as sinking six of its last eight free throws. Still, at times, Lake Forest was its own worst enemy.

In the last three minutes, the Spartans went 0-for-4 from the floor, twice missed the front end of one-and-one foul-shot situations and turned the ball over four times.

The Vikings took the lead for good at 53-52 when senior Luis Brujan (19 points) hit two foul shots with 1:38 on the clock.

Christiana netted six straight points from the free throw line before capping off the victory with a pair of breakaway dunks.

“Every time it felt like we could stretch it to two or three possessions, they would hit a shot or we would miss a shot,” said Starkey. “We just never got it done.”

Several of the Vikings’ big shots came from junior Jahmiel Hollis, who tallied a game-high 20 points and hit five three-pointers.

Vazquez had three three-pointers for Lake Forest. Sophomore Kaheim Kimbrough-Roach (13) and Jene Sample (10) also finished in double figures for the Spartans.

Early on, it was Lake Forest that shook off a slow start to rally into the lead. The Spartans fell behind 9-2 and 19-10 in the first nine minutes.

But Lake Forest closed the first half on an 11-2 run. A fastbreak basket from senior Javon Gibbs gave the Spartans their first lead at 21-20, with 40 seconds left before halftime.

Lake Forest was making the program’s third-straight appearance in the state tourney.

“I thought we would be a little more composed,” said Starkey. “I feel bad for our group because I know that’s not who we’ve been all year long. I don’t take away any credit from Christiana but I’m confused about what group I had out there tonight.”

The Spartans lose only three seniors from a squad that won the program’s first Henlopen Conference Southern Division title since 2002. All that Starkey can do is hope that his players learn from the experience.

“I’m definitely proud of the group,” he said. “I always hate this moment when it ends. The senior hit that realization that it’s the real end.

“It’s going to sting or a while. Those guys coming back have to use that sting to propel them into the off-season and get better.”

Mike Starkey

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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