The Cape Henlopen boys’ basketball team dropped a 63-62 decision to Sussex Tech Jan. 23 in what must go down as the most bizarre game in school history, as a bench-clearing third-quarter fight forced both teams to play with three players for the final 12 minutes.
The Vikings led 39-27 midway through the third period and looked to be on their way to a huge upset over the rival Ravens. With 4:08 left in the frame, heated words led to flying fists from players on both sides, and the teams rushed the court. Two players from each team were ejected for fighting, and another 15 or so met the same fate for leaving their respective benches. This left only three Vikings and three Ravens available to play.
After a 20-minute delay and long discussions among referees, coaches and administrators, the game resumed as a three-on-three matchup pitting Kay’von Jackson, Kris Rushin and Collin Mallet of Cape against Skylar Johnson, Kevin Custis and Devon Reynolds of Tech. The Ravens slowly cut into the deficit and won on a three-point play from Johnson with seven seconds left.
By the final whistle, only Mallet remained on the floor for the Vikings, as Cape’s other two players had fouled out. Cape coach Shemik Thompson said afterward: “I’ll say this: The game should’ve been forfeited. We should’ve won the game. The game should’ve been over [after the fight].”
The Vikings stormed to a 9-2 lead, which they extended to as many as 14 points late in the first half. Cape led 29-19 at the break thanks in large part to senior forward Sam Luciano-Solomon, who poured in 10 points before intermission on a variety of mid-range shots. Sussex Tech couldn’t buy a bucket early on, as it hit just 23 percent of its field goal tries in the opening half. The Vikings defense bottled up Tech’s talented guards, forcing them into contested shots and out-of-control drives again and again.
Cape maintained its comfortable lead until the fight, which turned the game into an isolation-heavy street-ball scenario and left the Ravens with arguably their three best players on the floor. Tech used an 18-2 run to take a 52-47 lead with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings responded with an 11-0 spurt of their own to go ahead 58-52 with 3:25 remaining. The Ravens scored the next eight points and went up 60-58 when Custis followed up a three-point play with a lay-in at the 2:24 mark. After a Cape turnover, Tech played stall-ball for nearly two minutes before coughing up the ball. Mallet made them pay for the miscue, sending the crowd into hysterics with a three-pointer from the left corner to put the Vikings in front 61-60 with 17 seconds on the clock.
On Sussex Tech’s ensuing possession, Johnson faked right and went hard to his left, banking in a lay-up while being fouled by Jackson. His free throw gave the Ravens a 63-61 edge with seven seconds left. When Cape got the ball back, Rushin drove the length of the court and was fouled. He calmly sank the first free throw but fired long on the second. Johnson snagged the rebound and was fouled by Rushin, leaving Cape with only one player on the floor for the final second of play.
Tech was called for a lane violation on Johnson’s first free throw, giving Mallet the ball out of bounds under his own basket. With nobody to receive a pass, the senior guard had no choice but to fling the ball 94 feet off the backboard and hope it would somehow carom back to him before any Ravens could touch it.
Johnson finished with 26 points, 17 rebounds and three assists for Tech (8-4, 7-3 Henlopen North), scoring 20 of his points in the second half. The senior guard played at Cape for the first two years of his career. Custis scored 13 of his 15 points after intermission and added five steals.
Thompson heaped praise on his players afterward, but admitted that they could’ve made better decisions at times.
“You tell your guys, ‘We’re playing pick-up,’” Thompson said. “‘There’s no sets you can run, no help defense. It’s just … play. Do you want it more?’ Those guys played hard. Kris was gassed. He gave it all he had. Kay’von gave it all he had. Collin played great and knocked down a big three that erupted the gym. We just have to play a little bit smarter. The smarter team won this game.”
Jackson enjoyed the change of pace offered by the three-on-three scenario.
“It was different – very fun and different,” Jackson said. “We played with heart and played as a team in a crazy situation. Not many other teams could play like that.”
Mallet scored 14 points, knocked down four three-pointers and blocked two shots for Cape (4-7, 3-6 Henlopen North), while Rushin tallied 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Luciano-Solomon and junior guard Ja’Vaughn Burton chipped in with 12 points apiece, while Jackson contributed 10.
The Vikings shot a season-best 45 percent from the floor and held the Ravens to a 36 percent night, but they gifted Tech extra possessions by giving up 21 offensive rebounds and committing 22 turnovers.
The once-in-a-lifetime three-on-three game drew attention from national media, as it was picked up by the Associated Press and other outlets.
Cape travels to Polytech Tuesday, Jan. 28. If suspensions are handed down for the fight, the Vikings likely will have to use junior varsity players in the game.
This story has been updated with new information.