In a tight game full of big runs and lead changes, the Cape boys’ basketball team got the final say, using a 21-7 second-half surge to outlast Sussex Central 52-50 Jan. 4 in Lewes.
With the Vikings down 35-31 late in the third quarter, sophomore guard Ja’Vaughn Burton drained a high-arcing three-pointer from the right wing to jump-start the run. Junior wing Jo Jo Kirby followed with a drive for a three-point play, and Burton bombed another 25-footer with a hand in his face to give Cape a 40-37 lead.
Junior guard Kris Rushin joined the party a few possessions later, finishing a fast-break lay-in following a Burton steal. After two free throws from sophomore forward Ethan Pires, Burton connected again from long range to extend the Vikings’ advantage to six. Rushin then grabbed a missed Central free throw and went coast-to-coast for a Euro-step lay-up that ignited the Cape crowd. Pires put an exclamation point on the spurt with a three-point play on an inbound pass from Rushin, putting the Vikings up 52-42 with 2:36 on the clock and effectively ending the game.
Pires recorded his first career double-double, tallying 12 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman guard Kay’von Allen scored a career-high 11 points on 3-for-5 three-point shooting. Cape also got nine points apiece from Burton and Kirby, with the latter establishing a new career high, and a five-point, eight-assist outing from Rushin.
Senior guard Luke D’Ambrogi and junior guard Collin Mallet rounded out the Vikings’ scoring with three points each. Mallet’s bucket was particularly huge, as he heaved home a 35-footer from the Vikings logo at the halftime buzzer to pull his team to within two points.
Head coach Steve Re was all smiles after the win, Cape’s first at home this season.
“Nothing’s gonna be a walk in the park for us,” Re said. “We’re undersized and gonna get out-athleted a lot, so we really have to do things, from a chemistry perspective, together as a team. I think we did that really well tonight. We showed character fighting through some adversity in the fourth quarter. Our young guys are learning things on the fly, and that’s OK. As long as we keep giving forth the effort, I’ll take it.”
Re said the Vikings’ fans, loud and proud from the opening tap, spurred them to victory.
“It feels great [to get our first home win],” Re said. “The student section was great tonight, and we felt really positive energy from the gym.”
Cape (4-4, 3-2 Henlopen North) struggled to crack Central’s zone defense in the first half, swinging the ball around the perimeter without much success and eating up the clock. The Vikings got off just 16 shots before intermission and trailed 21-16 before Mallet’s three-pointer.
Pires said Cape adjusted well to the zone in the second half.
“We tried to swing the ball to our best attackers, Jo Jo and Kris, and tried to attack the sidelines because we knew [Central’s zone] was gonna collapse,” Pires said. “We tried to get it into the paint and kick it out to our shooters.”
Allen saw lots of growth from his team.
“We moved the ball more than we usually do,” Allen said. “We handled the ball better and had fewer turnovers. We’re really small, so we try to get the three-pointer popping. The shots have been falling.”
The Knights (2-7, 1-5 Henlopen North) were paced by senior guard Jahlier Pettyjohn, who went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc for 22 points. Junior guard Amir Mollock added nine points and three assists for Central, which shot just 28 percent from the floor in the second half.
Cape snapped a three-game losing streak by using its most potent weapon: the long-ball. The Vikings hit nine of their 16 three-point attempts (56 percent) against Central and have gone a sizzling 20-for-44 from deep (45 percent) over their last two games.
Cape has won nine consecutive matchups with the Knights dating back to the 2013-14 season.
The Vikings will be back in action Tuesday, Jan. 8, when they host unbeaten Dover at 6:15 p.m.