ST. GEORGES – Nate Thomas has been around high school basketball long enough to know that sometimes, the shots just won’t be falling. But when you get the chance with the clock running down, you have to trust your shot.
That’s just what the St. Elizabeth senior did on March 1, draining a three-point shot with 5.1 seconds remaining to give his team a 40-39 lead over host and No. 8 seed St. Georges in the second round of the DIAA boys basketball tournament. A last-second attempt from Nah’Shon Hyland bounced off the rim, and ninth-seeded St. Elizabeth had secured its spot in the quarterfinal round.
The Vikings trailed, 39-37, with 16 seconds remaining after a missed free throw by the Hawks. Justin Money brought the ball over midcourt and passed to Thomas, who sent it to Guy DeBonaventura in the corner. That pass was high, and DeBonaventura leaped to get it and found Money, who dished to Thomas, who had been held to four points until that point. He let it go from just outside the arc, and this time the ball hit nothing but net. For Thomas, it was a satisfying end to a game where he did not have his best shot.
“Tonight I wasn’t playing too well. My shot wasn’t going at all. But I’m really glad that my teammates kept faith in me, and it was a great team win. I’m so proud of my teammates,” he said.
His three ended a low-scoring affair that featured lots of defense. The key for the Vikings was holding Hyland and Michael McCants in check. In St. Georges’ 68-57 win over the Vikings on Dec. 12 at the St. E Center, Hyland exploded for 39 points, while McCants pounded the inside for 19. St. Elizabeth smothered Hyland with a combination of Money and Jaden Dickerson, while Thomas went head-to-head underneath with McCants. Hyland was held to six points, including the first five of the game. He was held to a single free throw after that and was scoreless in the second half.
“Bones (Hyland), obviously, is a very good player,” Thomas said. “We tried to shut him down and their big kid, we tried to shut him down, too. They killed us the first time.”
After Hyland’s hot start, St. Elizabeth took control of the game. Although they weren’t shooting their best, the Vikings limited the Hawks to single shots on most possessions and forced numerous turnovers. When St. Georges did get shots, they often were taken by players other than Hyland and McCants.
The Hawks trailed, 24-13, when Blake Bryant was fouled shooting a three-pointer as time expired in the second quarter. He made all three free throws, cutting the Vikings’ lead to eight. That seemed to give the Hawks momentum.
They scored the first 12 points of the second half, taking their first lead since opening up with a 5-0 run. McCants began the scoring on a second-chance bucket, and Tyrese Owens followed with a three-pointer. Owens scored again, making the score 24-23. Hyland then found McCants underneath for two more, and Owens hit from distance again. The run ended at 15 when DeBonaventura scored on a putback.
DeBonaventura nailed a three-pointer at the end of the third to pull the Vikings within one at 32-31 heading into the fourth. It was the senior’s first action since Feb. 6; he has been out with a broken hand. He led the Vikings with 13 points.
“At practice, I would do conditioning and everything, and then I would shoot around the whole time. I never lost my touch. I was shooting every practice,” DeBonaventura said.
St. Georges opened up a five-point lead to begin the final quarter, but DeBonaventura scored again to stop the bleeding. Nasir Brown tied it at 36 with a triple with 3:30 to go. McCants untied it a minute later, and the score remained 38-36 Hawks until Owens hit a free throw with about a minute left. Money added a free throw with 35 seconds to go.
The Vikings improved to 16-6 and have reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 2015, but those games were played at high school sites because of weather. Their last trip to the Bob Carpenter Center came in 2014. They will meet the No. 17 seed, Glasgow, who upset top-seeded Cape Henlopen on Thursday night.
St. Georges, which finished the season 13-8, got 12 points from Owens and 10 from McCants.