NEWARK – Salesianum took a two-point lead over Sanford in the teams’ meeting in the DIAA boys’ quarterfinal round on March 3 at the Bob Carpenter Center, but the Sals could manage just two more points over the final 5:03. The seventh-seeded Warriors, meanwhile, put up 10 points in the same span and moved on to the semifinals with a 42-36 win.
The final lead came courtesy of Darnell Vaughan. With his team trailing by one, the junior drove the lane for a short field goal. He was fouled and completed the three-point play, but that 34-32 advantage would be short-lived. Corey Perkins restored the Sanford lead with a three-point shot 75 seconds later.
Paul Brown, playing his final game for the Sals, tied the score at 36 after taking a nice backdoor pass from classmate Mike Wallace with 2:46 remaining, but the tourney’s second-seeded team went scoreless after that. Salesianum finished the game shooting just 28.6 percent from the field, making five of 20 three-point attempts. They missed all nine tries from beyond the arc in the second half.
Sanford’s 6-8 freshman Nnanna Njoku, who electrified the crowd with two dunks in the first quarter, was largely quieted in the second half. His free throw, however, with 2:25 remaining proved to be the winning point. Corey Perkins added a pair of free throws, Sean Williams added another, and Jyare Davis closed out the scoring with two from the charity stripe in the final seconds.
The disappointing finish overshadowed a fine effort from the Sals, who lost to the Warriors by nine during the regular season. They endured shooting woes all night, but their ability to make three-pointers kept them in the contest in the first half.
Njoku scored all six Sanford points in the first quarter from in close, including an impressive alley-oop that drew gasps from the audience. Brown, however, nailed a three near the end of the quarter to give Salesianum a 10-6 lead.
Two free throws from Brown to open the second pushed the lead to 12-6, the biggest advantage the Sals would have all night. The Warriors went on an 11-0 run after that, including on Njoku’s third dunk of the evening. Jack Brown ended the run with a three-pointer, and the Sals would hit two more triples before the half ended, but Sanford took a 24-21 lead into intermission.
Some defensive adjustments at halftime helped Salesianum neutralize Njoku and Davis in the second half, and the Sals’ offense picked up. They re-took the lead at 27-26 on a Paul Brown second-chance hoop, and the lead was a single point after three quarters.
They could manage just two field goals in the fourth on nine attempts, the same number of made shots as Sanford, but the Warriors scored enough from the free throw line to secure the victory.
Paul Brown played all 32 minutes and paced the Sals with 13 points. His brother, Jack, added eight. Salesianum, playing in the quarterfinal round for the first time since winning the state championship in 2015, finished the season 14-7.
Sanford got 14 points from Njoku and 12 from Davis. The Warriors improved to 16-5 and have lost just once since opening the season 1-4. They will meet defending state champion Smyrna on Thursday at the Bob.