Senators return to boys semifinals: Dover overcomes slow start, tops Sals 60-50

Jy’Heim Spencer slams home a basket to put the Senators on the board in Saturday’s state quarterfinal game against Salesianum. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Twelve minutes into Saturday night’s state quarterfinals, Dover High’s boys’ basketball team had scored a mere four points.
Senators’ coach Stephen Wilson knew how it looked.

“I knew people were going to doubt us and say, ‘There he goes again, Wilson’s blowing it again,’” the veteran coach admitted. “But I didn’t doubt my team, because we play defense.”

Indeed.

Shaking off a horrid offensive start by cranking up its defense, third-seeded Dover pushed aside No. 6 Salesianum for a 60-50 victory in the DIAA boys’ basketball state quarterfinals before a boisterous crowd on Saturday night.
By somehow digging themselves out of a 17-4 hole, the Senators (21-2) earned a second-straight trip to the state Final Four.

They’ll face No. 18 St. Andrews on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Carpenter Center.

Wanya Wise of Dover is smothered by a pair of Sallies defenders while trying for a short jump shot.

When sophomore Terrance Ross sank a three-pointer with 3:41 left in the third quarter, Dover was up 28-27 and had the lead for good. By the time Elijah Allen swished a three with 7:32 remaining in the contest, the Senators led 46-29.

It added up to a commanding 42-12 run for the Senators since midway through the second quarter.

“We just told each other we have to pick it up for each other,” said senior guard Eden Davis. “We were like, ‘It’s not going to be our last game. We’re not finishing like this.’

“We just picked it up. No matter how many points we’re down, we know we can get back into it if we play defense the right way.”

“We knew we could get right back in this game,” said senior guard Wanya Wise. “Play defense — defense is going to win you championships. That’s what we go over every day.

“As soon as we started getting turnovers, we kept pressuring them and pressuring them. They kept turning the ball over right to us. We took the lead. Once we took the lead, we didn’t let them come back.”

The Sals (13-9) turned the ball over 13 times while netting just 12 points during Dover’s decisive 13-minute run.

Of course, the Senators’ biggest problem in the first half was their offense. Dover made just two of its first 23 shots and went almost 10 minutes without scoring in one stretch.

But a late second-quarter flurry got the Senators back within 19-16 at halftime. They then erupted for 27 third-quarter points, sinking five of their seven three-pointers in the quarter.

Dover also hit seven of its last eight shots of the quarter to build a 40-29 advantage.

“The shots that we were taking weren’t bad shots,” said Wilson. “They just weren’t going. And their shoots weren’t going, either.

“I told them to weather the storm. The game is about a bunch of runs. I thought we had the right run at the right time.”

Dover’s Eden Davis goes in for an underhand layup defended by Justin Molen of Salesianum.

Davis (16 points), Wise (15), Allen (15) and Jy’Heim Spencer (9) paced the Senators’ balanced attack. As usual, though, it was Wise who spearheaded Dover’s pressure defense, coming up with a number of steals and keeping the Sals from setting up their offense.

“Wanya is a guy that a lot of people don’t give a lot of credit to,” said Wilson. “But I think he’s one of the better defenders if not the best defender in the state. He’s proven it night in and night out. He’s just that unsung hero.”

Sallies, which was led by Ethan Hinds’ 12 points, did close within 52-44 with 2:30 still left. But an alley-oop dunk from Wise to Spencer with just under a minute left seemed to seal the victory.

The Senators also sank 10 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter to close out the win.

Even though St. Andrews is only the No. 18 seed, Dover’s players say they’re not looking past the Cardinals. The Senators learned again on Saturday night that there’s rarely an easy game at this point in the tournament.

“Every day we come in here, I try to tell everybody on the team, we’ve got to get two-percent better every day,” said Wise. “We’ve only got one more chance, this is our last go-around. I want to go out on top.”