MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s trailed Laurel by a few points throughout most of the first two and a half quarters when the teams met on Jan. 8, but the Spartans used a big run to take control, then withstood a late surge to defeat the Bulldogs, 61-56, in a matinee matchup.
It was Laurel’s first game of the season, more than a month after most teams took to the court. The Bulldogs postponed the beginning of their campaign while their football team was busy in its successful pursuit of the DIAA Class 1A state championship and several boys played both sports. Then the Christmas tournament in which they were scheduled to participate was canceled. Finally, their Jan. 4 game was wiped out by heavy snowfall in Sussex County.
Still, the Bulldogs came out ready to play, if a bit rusty. They used their athleticism to engage the Spartans in a track meet, and Laurel got scoring from five different players to open up a 17-13 lead after one quarter.
The Spartans took the lead at 19-18 on a follow shot from Jabri White with 5:20 left in the first half, and Dominic McFarland added a pair of free throws to increase the advantage to three. Laurel answered, however. Javier White started with a three-pointer, and Tyronn Kane tacked on consecutive transition layups. A three from Kylse Wilson finished a 12-2 run that saw the Bulldogs with a 30-23 lead. It was five at halftime.
The scoring slowed in the opening minutes of the second half as both teams got a bit careless. Laurel’s lead was 40-36 when the Spartans made their move. A late 8-0 run to close out the third included field goals from White, Prince DeWitt, Chad Dohl and Ryan Smith, and suddenly it was Saint Mark’s on top by four.
The streak continued into the fourth quarter. Saint Mark’s held the opening possession for nearly a minute before DeWitt hit a twisting layup. He added a 12-foot baseline jumper. By the time Kei’shaun Copes made a layup, the Spartans had extended the run to 18, and the lead looked comfortable.
But Copes’ layup kickstarted a seven-point Bulldogs run, which concluded with a third-chance putback for Nifere Griffin with 1:44 remaining. Dohl came up big for the home team, however, scooping up a loose ball near midcourt and finishing an old-fashioned three-point play to get the lead back to double digits at 57-47.
An emphatic dunk by White extended the lead to a dozen, but six straight free throws by Wilson chopped that in half with 47.7 seconds left on the clock.
Brandon Baffone ended the free throw streak with a field goal, and Wilson ended his impressive day with a final three-pointer.
White had 21 to lead all scorers. DeWitt joined him in double figures with 14. The Spartans, playing for the first time since Dec. 21, improved to 5-1. They are back in action on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. when A.I. DuPont visits.
For the Bulldogs, Wilson was the lone player in double figures; he had 20. Copes added nine. Laurel (0-1) begins a three-game homestand on Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. against Early College.
All photos by Mike Lang.