Down 12 points at top-ranked Sanford with 1:20 left in the third quarter, the Cape Henlopen boys’ basketball team looked all but gone. The Vikings were up against a rabid crowd, a living legend on the sidelines in Stan Waterman, and a white-hot Jyare Davis, who’d hit his first nine shots of the night on the way to 25 effortless points.
Faced with its biggest challenge of the young season, Cape responded with its biggest scoring outburst, ending the game on a 38-17 run to topple the mighty Warriors 78-69 Dec. 8 in Hockessin.
“This is a big win for us,” said Cape coach Steve Re, whose squad became the first Henlopen Conference team to defeat Sanford since 2009. “It just shows you what we’re capable of doing when we’re focused and we’re playing together. We just stayed in the moment.”
Senior forward Ian Robertson scored a career-high 28 points, corralled nine rebounds and added three assists for the Vikings, who used a barrage of late threes and clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch to down Delaware SportsZone’s No. 1 team on its own floor. Senior forward Randy Rickards added 20 points – 13 of them in the fourth quarter – five rebounds and five steals.
Cape stumbled out of the blocks, connecting on just two of its first 14 field goals and going 1-for-10 from beyond the arc to start the game. Meanwhile, Sanford could do no wrong. When Davis pulled up for a three to give the revved-up Warriors a 19-7 lead seconds into the second period, a rout looked likely. The Vikings responded with a 20-8 spurt, highlighted by three consecutive lay-ups from Robertson and a long three-pointer by senior guard Izaiah Dadzie, to knot the score at 27 two minutes before halftime. Sanford reestablished control by hitting three long-balls, two of them from Davis, in a 90-second span, and led 38-28 at intermission.
The teams traded baskets throughout the third frame, with Sanford going up 52-40 on a Davis put-back with 1:20 remaining in the period. Cape refused to fold, throwing an 8-1 spurt at the Warriors to close the quarter. Dadzie and Robertson nailed corner threes, then Rickards made two of three at the free-throw line to close the gap to 53-48 entering the fourth.
Nnanna Njoku, a 6-foot-8 freshman center, converted a three-point play to give Sanford room to breathe, but Rickards responded with his first three-pointer of the season and then knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 57-53. Sophomore wing Sh’Kai Chandler went 1-for-2 from the line on Cape’s next possession to put more pressure on Sanford. After a miss underneath from Njoku, Dadzie went full World B. Free on a high-arcing three from the right corner, deadlocking the score at 57 with 5:11 on the clock.
Davis bulled to the cup on Sanford’s next trip down the floor, but Chandler swatted the 6-foot-7 blue-chip guard’s effort away. Rickards put the Vikings ahead 59-57 with a pair of free throws, then put his stamp on the game by converting a twisting, double-pumping “and one.” Up five with 3:51 remaining, Cape held the ball and forced Sanford to foul again and again.
The Vikings came into the game shooting just 61 percent from the charity stripe, but Robertson, Rickards, Dadzie, Chandler and sophomore guard Kris Rushin combined to net 14 of 16 free throws (88 percent) over the final 3:20 to seal the deal.
Re chalked the win up to his team’s mental fortitude.
“It was all concentration – just staying with it, which has sometimes been a struggle for us,” he said. “We still didn’t execute great. [Sanford] took us out of our offense pretty well, so it just came down to us making plays and being strong with the ball. When mistakes happened, we just had to stay with it, and we did.”
Although Cape’s win may have shocked the Delaware hoops world, Re wasn’t surprised in the least.
“We know we can [win games like this],” he said. “We’ve done it in the summer and at team camps and other situations we’ve had. It’s a matter of staying with it, staying in the moment, believing in each other and sticking to our principles.”
Robertson, who has averaged 24.7 points and 11 rebounds through three games, said confidence was key.
“We knew we could do it,” said Robertson, who went 8-for-15 from the floor and 10-for-12 from the free-throw line. “It was just a matter of whether we were going to come out with the right mindset. We did. We came out and played as hard as we could.”
Robertson and his teammates weren’t fazed by their early deficit.
“We know we can hit shots,” he said. “We haven’t been hitting shots all season as well as we know we can. We knew that once it clicked, we’d be right there [with Sanford]. It finally clicked, and we came back for the win.”
Rickards was held without a field goal until early in the fourth quarter, but finished with a flurry of crucial buckets. The 6-foot-5 sky-walker didn’t let his early struggles get the best of him.
“At halftime, I was like, ‘I can’t give up on these guys because they never give up on me,’” Rickards said. “I got that [three-point play] in the fourth quarter and it all just came together from there. Nobody gave up on each other tonight. I loved it. I’ve never been part of a team that I love more than this team.”
Davis, widely regarded as one of the top 20 sophomores in America, finished with 29 points on 10-for-12 shooting for the Warriors (0-1, 0-0 Independent), while Njoku notched 20 points and hit nine of his 15 shots from the floor. No other Sanford player scored more than seven points, as the rest of the Warriors combined to shoot 8-for-26 from the floor.
Dadzie recorded his third straight 12-point outing for Cape (2-1, 1-1 Henlopen North), hitting three three-balls in the process. Chandler contributed nine points, five boards and two assists, while Rushin scored all five of his points at the free-throw line. Sophomore guards Skylar Johnson and Jo Jo Kirby chipped in with two points apiece.
Dadzie saw a huge difference between the Cape team that dropped its opener to Smyrna and the one that stunned Sanford.
“Our attitudes and the way we played together were just so much different from a week ago,” Dadzie said. “In the Smyrna game, we definitely weren’t playing together, but this was so much better.”
Cape shot 44 percent from the floor and made 15 of its final 25 shots, including seven of its last 10 from beyond the arc. The Vikings lived at the line all night, as they hit 36 of their 52 free throws and fouled out a pair of Sanford starters by attacking the rim.
The Vikings return to action Tuesday, Dec. 12, when Polytech visits the Big House for a 6:15 p.m. tip.