NEW CASTLE — Saint Mark’s boys basketball team knew it had to limit the offense by William Penn’s outside shooters in the teams’ second-round DIAA state tournament matchup on March 3. The 22nd-seeded Spartans accomplished that mission, holding No. 6 Penn scoreless over the final 5:09 in a 51-43 victory before a sellout crowd at William Penn.
“We knew it was going to be hostile here, so we had to play our game and be mentally strong,” the Spartans’ Donovan Artis said.
The win propels the Spartans into a quarterfinal battle against the third seed, Tower Hill. The game will be played Saturday at 4 p.m. at a site to be determined. It is the Spartans’ first trip to the quarters since 2014.
Saint Mark’s showed early on what its offensive strategy would be. They sent the ball down low to forward Jabri White on their first two possessions, and the senior knocked down a couple of baby hook shots. The Colonials, controlling the rebounding in the early going, bounced back, scoring the next seven points and taking the lead on a step-back three-pointer from Jalen Sample, one of the big guns the Spartans had on their radar.
Buckets by White and Prince DeWitt put Saint Mark’s back on top, but the Colonials’ other sniper, Gabe Valmond, drained a corner three for a 10-8 William Penn lead. That, however, would be the last three-pointer for Valmond or Sample for the game.
“We wanted to keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible. We did that, we crashed the boards, talked on defense, and it got us to the ‘W.’ We did it from start to finish,” DeWitt said.
The first-quarter lead swung back and forth between the teams until the buzzer, when DeWitt hit a three that gave the Spartans a 13-12 advantage and elicited a roar from the sizeable and vocal Saint Mark’s student section, seated right behind the Spartans’ bench.
Artis entered the game for the Spartans in the second quarter and paid immediate dividends. He scored eight points in the quarter, all in tight. He said the team noticed that William Penn’s interior defenders were susceptible to pump fakes, and he used that to his advantage.
The score was tied at 22 when White came up with a steal at halfcourt, then went unchallenged for an emphatic dunk to give his team the lead. Again, the Colonials fought back, and the teams traded the lead down to the end of the half, when Chad Dohl took his turn beating the horn with a three-pointer from the corner. The Spartans led by two at the break.
After a big second quarter, the Spartans could manage just nine points in the third. Five of those came from Dohl in the opening moments of the stanza. Penn took a 36-35 lead on a long three ball from Johnathan Kilson with two and a half minutes to go, but the teams traded missed shots and turnovers for 60 seconds until Dohl’s fadeaway three-pointer with about 1:30 left restored a two-point margin for the Spartans.
Sample tied the game with a layup early in the fourth, but White inbounded the ball the length of the floor to a wide-open Artis, who returned the favor.
“I just happened to be there. That was a great throw by Jabri. He got a little assist there,” Artis said.
The Spartans then picked up a loose ball and turned that into an old-fashioned three-point play for DeWitt, who scored while being knocked to the floor. It was back to a two-point Saint Mark’s lead, however, when Jasir Faucett-Kelly scored on a hoop and harm.
But that was as close as the Colonials would come to a lead the rest of the night. After DeWitt scored to extend the lead to 45-41, Emmanuel Vohm went inside for a field goal that turned out to be the final time Penn would score. White had three blocks in the fourth to help make sure of it.
The Colonials certainly had opportunities to tie the score. Saint Mark’s missed two free throws with 1:49 to go, but William Penn did the same after heading back up court. On the second of those misses, White snared the rebound, only to be called for traveling after losing his balance and falling down. But Gavin Mark’s negated that turnover with a steal. He was fouled with 54 seconds to go and made both attempts. The Spartans would add four more points on free throws before the end of the game.
DeWitt led four players in double figures with 14. He was joined by Dohl (13), Artis (11) and White (11). Saint Mark’s improved to 14-8. They have won seven of eight after enduring a six-game losing streak, most of which came with DeWitt and White out of the lineup. DeWitt said being sidelined motivated the pair.
“We didn’t want to let the team down. We didn’t want to let the coaches down. So we came back more focused than ever,” he said.
Eight players scored for William Penn, led by Valmond with 7. Four players each scored six. The Colonials ended the season 14-6.
All photos by Mike Lang.