Matthews pours in 30 as Smyrna tops Tech 74-53, earns state tournament semifinals

Smyrna’s Caleb Matthews shoots against Sussex Tech’s Devon Reynolds during the second half of their boys’ basketball state quarterfinal game at the Carpenter Center on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

NEWARK — Caleb Matthews laughed when he described his first shot attempt on Saturday night.

Matthews was fouled on a three-pointer, yet shot it anyway with no follow-through. He chucked it with his hands close to his chest and while falling out of bounds from the corner.

While it wasn’t aesthetically-pleasing, it still went in.

“If you can hit that shot, you feel like you can hit any shot in this gym,” Matthews said.

It was a sign of things to come as Matthews kept draining threes.

The Smyrna High senior finished with 30 points and made seven three-pointers in a 74-53 Eagle victory over Sussex Tech in the quarterfinals of the DIAA boys’ basketball state tournament.

Smyrna (21-3), the No. 3 seed and defending state champions, advanced to play No. 7 Sanford (17-5) on Thursday night at 8 p.m. Sussex Tech, the six seed, wrapped up its season at 18-5.

Matthews made six of his seven three-point attempts in the first half. He ended the game with a seven-of-10 mark from three-point range and also shot 10-of-15 from the floor while making all three of his free throws.

It was the fifth time in his career he played at the Bob Carpenter Center. While some high school shooters have struggled with the brighter lights and no clear backdrop behind the basket, Matthews loves playing here.

Smyrna’s Nalik Veasley- Johnson goes up for a dunk against Sussex Tech during the first half of their boys’ basketball state quarterfinal game at the Carpenter Center on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“This is easily my favorite gym I’ve ever played in in my life,” Matthews said. “I love shooting the ball here.”

While Matthews did a bulk of the scoring, Smyrna received key contributions from most of its starting five.

Juniors Nalik Veasley-Johnson and Jaymeir Garnett each recorded a double-double. Veasley-Johnson had 14 points and 13 rebounds while Garnett scored 13 and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Senior point guard Greg Bloodsworth was a few stats shy of a triple-double, finishing with 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Matthews and Garnett played three games at the Bob Carpenter Center on Smyrna’s way to a state title last season and Bloodsworth was at St. Thomas More a year ago where he reached the semifinals.

“We got three guys who have played a significant amount of games here,” said Smyrna coach Andrew Mears. “They didn’t look nervous. They looked confident. … I just knew that we would start well.”

That quick start gave Smyrna a 20-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Eagles went on two separate 10-0 runs during the first half and led by as much as 37 early in the third quarter.

At halftime Matthews had 19 points while Sussex Tech scored 14 as a team.

Smyrna’s Nalik Veasley-Johnson shoots against Sussex Tech during the first half of the boys’ basketball state quarterfinal game on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Matthews was held to just nine points the last time these two teams played — a 66-52 Smyrna victory on Jan. 30.

“I watched the film from the other two games earlier,” Matthews said. “I felt like I wasn’t coming off screens, I was kind of drifting and letting them stay with me. I wanted to come off the screen tighter and it helped a lot.”

Jaquan Burton was Sussex Tech’s leading scorer with 17 points. Ricky Kane and Devon Reynolds added eight points apiece.

Sussex Tech was coming off a second round win against Mount Pleasant where the Ravens made 11 three-pointer. Smyrna held them to a 6-of-23 mark on Saturday, including just two-of-10 in the first half.

“We wanted to make sure we dictated the game on both ends,” Mears said, “Credit to Sussex Tech. They had a great year and we knew it was going to be a battle. It really started with focusing on ourselves and we did what we wanted to offensively with moving the basketball.”

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