Phillips scores career-high 18 as Sussex Tech girls top Smyrna

GEORGETOWN — She was given just one day’s notice that she’d be making the move from guard to forward ahead of the regular season opener in late November.

But so far, Sussex Tech High senior Nikki Phillips has embraced the challenge that comes with a position change.

In Tuesday night’s 61-43 Henlopen North win over Smyrna High, Phillips put up a career-high 18 points and was a disruptive force in the paint.

The win over the Eagles (0-4), which improved the Ravens to 2-1, marked just Phillips’ third game playing forward.

“We moved her that Thursday, in practice before the season opener against Dover, to full-time post,” explained Tech coach Justin Davis. “She was as positive as you can expect the kid to be after playing three years at guard, waiting her turn.”

Through her first three games in her new position, filling in for injured senior forward Janiya Stevens, Phillips has a pair of double-digit performances and a combined 37 points scored.

“She not only came off the bench last year, she came off the bench as a guard,” said Davis. “Watching her play now, maybe I should have already made that move. Due to injuries and to some people who are missing time right now – Stevens, Ciara Wilson and Tiana Willin – we gave her one day notice before our first game of the year.”

“I knew when she got hurt that I needed to step up my game, and hopefully if I stepped up my game it would step up other people’s games as well,” said Phillips. “I just knew that I needed to go out there and do my job.”

Even while injured, Phillips said Stevens has helped her make a smooth transition to the post.

“At practice she’s always out there cheering me on, giving me pointers and she’s just always there when I need her,” Phillips said of her teammate.

Even with the early-season success, Phillips acknowledges there have been some challenges during her position change.

“I’ve never been good under the basket, so boxing out has definitely been a big challenge for me,” she said. “Also learning where I need to be at certain times.”

Phillips scored 11 points in the team’s season-opening win over Dover High and eight points in last Friday’s road loss at Polytech High.

“She came out and played really well against Dover and has just played better ever since,” said Davis.

During Tuesday night’s win, she spent time reeling in offensive and defensive rebounds in the paint, dishing out assists and knocking down jump shots.

Fellow senior forward Mi’Cah Shelton added another 12 points in Tech’s double-digit win.

Freshman guard Sierra Troyer combined for 10 points in her first two varsity games but matched that total against Smyrna with her first career double-digit scoring game.

“We’re really excited about her,” said Davis. “Being a freshman, and with all the returning girls from last year, she probably deserves more playing time than she gets. But if she keeps playing like she did – especially in the first half tonight – then she’s going to get more.”

Sussex Tech jumped out to an early 14-9 lead in the first eight minutes of play, with Phillips scoring eight of those 14 points.

Troyer entered the game off the bench and put up her first basket of the night on a fast break lay-up with 23 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

She then scored six of her 10 points in the second quarter, helping the Ravens put up a 19-point quarter to enter the halftime break with a 33-21 advantage.

Turnovers and defensive mistakes allowed the Eagles to get back into the game early in the second half, out-scoring the Ravens 10-7 in the third quarter to pull to within nine points heading into the final eight minutes.

“Smyrna hung in there, I give them credit. They have a couple seniors who are their leaders and they really wouldn’t let us extend that lead past 15 until the very end,” explained Davis.

“Some of the stuff we did defensively, blown assignments and giving the ball up too easily on offense kind of helped them with their comeback, but I give them credit.”

Senior guard Camille Scott scored seven of her eight points in the fourth quarter, which included a five-for-five performance from the free throw line, to put the game out of reach for the Ravens.

As a team, Tech only went 12-for-28 from the free throw line.

“We have to clean up careless turnovers,” Davis said. “We always play fast-paced but being undersized we want to play even faster. So, finding that sweet spot between playing fast enough to make our speed a factor and playing out of control is what we need to fix by Friday.”

Senior Jayla Smith scored 23 of Smyrna’s 43 points, while senior Marqueisha Bennett added 10 points of her own in the loss.

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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