MILLTOWN – Within the span of a minute, St. Mark’s had seen its 37-36 lead over Caesar Rodney turn into a 42-37 deficit with less than two minutes left in regulation. But that Spartans clawed back to take a three-point lead, shook off the disappointment of seeing the Riders tie it, and reached down for a 57-55 overtime victory in nonconference boys basketball on Jan. 31. The Spartans ended CR’s seven-game winning streak.
Chris Ludman gave the Spartans that 37-36 lead with a 12-foot jumper from the key. The Riders’ Kairi Buie followed with an old-fashioned three-point play, and when St. Mark’s committed a turnover on its next possession, coach Nick Sanna kicked his water bottle in frustration. The bottle noisily bounced off a chair and rolled on to the court, and Sanna was assessed a technical foul. Caesar Rodneymade those two free throws and then another on the ensuing possession, giving the Riders the five-point spread.
Zach Palmer connected on a three-point shot, his fourth of the evening, to make the score 42-40 with 1:06 to go. The Spartans then forced a Riders turnover, and this time Nick Leski hit from distance for the one-point advantage, 43-42.
Spartans coach Nick Sanna said Palmer has been playing with a lot of confidence this season.
“It’s great to see that,” Sanna said. “He’s the type of kid who brings it every day at practice, and you’re starting to see the fruits of his labor out there.”
After Leski’s triple, St. Mark’s regained possession, and following five Caesar Rodney fouls put the Spartans into the bonus, Ludman made two free throws. CR was not ready for the game to end, however, as Najee Watson drained a three from the left elbow to tie it at 45 and send it to overtime.
The Riders, ranked eighth in the latest News Journal rankings, scored the first basket of the extra session, but that was the last lead they would have. Ludman took over after that. The senior hit a triple from the corner, scored on a short jumper off an inbounds pass, then stole a ball at midcourt and scored the transition layup, and the Spartans had a 52-47 lead.
Ludman said it was critical that his team not let Watson’s basket deflate them.
“We knew this was a huge game for us. We’ve lost a couple of tough games this season. We saw they just entered the top 10, so we wanted this one real bad,” he said.
“We knew we had a lot of momentum besides that shot. We just did what we were doing right to end of the fourth quarter.”
Billy Sullivan of St. Mark’s and Davione Robinson of Caesar Rodney each hit three free throws in the OT, and a putback by the Riders’ Joseph Williams had the visitors within three at 55-52. It was Ludman who would put the game away, hitting two free throws in the final seconds. Caesar Rodney’s Timothy Spence banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer for the final margin.
It was a much-needed win for the Spartans, who dropped a frustrating three-point decision to Caravel on Sunday and who had not scored more than 40 points in seven of their last eight games. They trailed against the Riders by scores of 18-10 and 27-18, but went on extended runs both times.
“We’ve lost some close ones, and we’ve shot ourselves in the foot at times,” Sanna said. “Caesar Rodney does a great job of pressuring the ball and keeping you off balance, but in the long run for us, our guys, they showed me a lot. I was really proud of the way they battled.
“I thought we scratched tooth and nail the entire way, and we came out on the winning end of it.”.
St. Mark’s had been struggling from the field, but on Tuesday the Spartans lit it up from downtown. They had eight three-pointers, with Palmer hitting half of them.
Ludman led the way for St. Mark’s with 24, all but seven of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime. Palmer scored 12, and Sullivan added 10. The Spartans, who improved to 9-4, stick with the Henlopen Conference North for their next game as the welcome Sussex Central to the Pike Creek campus Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
For the Riders, Williams had nine in the first on his way to 15. Jaquan Hooks added 10, and Watson scored nine on a trio of three-pointers. Caesar Rodney (10-4) returns home on Friday for a challenge vs. Smyrna. Tip is at 7:15 p.m.