WILMINGTON — Salesianum turned an early deficit into a lead, then led Sanford most of the night in a 38-35 victory on Feb. 23 at the Father John Birkenheuer Gymnsaium. It was the Sals’ final regular-season home game, and the win provided a measure of redemption against the Warriors, ranked second in the state by Delaware Live/302Sports.
The Sals, currently raked fifth, dropped a 60-30 decision to Sanford on Feb. 6 at the 76ers Fieldhouse. They came out Monday more aggressive on defense and on the boards, as they outperformed the Warriors in rebounding both offensively and defensively. They were able to turn those extra possessions into points on a night when scoring was at a premium.
Nnanna Njoku, the St. Edmond’s Academy graduate who will play college basketball at Villanova University, opened the scoring with two free throws, and a three-pointer from Brandon Dwyer spotted the Warriors to a 5-0 lead. But Sallies came back in a hurry.
They scored the remaining 10 points of the quarter to take a five-point lead after one. Rasheen Caulk hit a baseline floater to get the Sals on the board with 4:36 to go, and defensive stops led to an Ethan Hinds field goal, then a three from Rasheen Caulk to give the Sals a 7-5 lead. Brett O’Hara scored the final bucket of the quarter for Salesianum with less than a second remaining after rebounding two of his own misses.
Njoku headed to the bench with foul trouble early in the second, but his teammates battled back to take a 13-12 lead on a free throw by another St. Edmond’s graduate, Dayon Polk. But O’Hara took the spotlight next, draining a corner three, then taking a long outlet pass from Justin Molen for a transition layup.
The Warriors battled back to knot the score once again at 17, but the Sals responded again. In the final minute of the half, O’Hara drove the baseline for a layup, and after a Jackson Conkey steal, Caulk fed Sam Walsh for another transition bucket. The lead was four at the break.
Njoku opened the scoring in the second half, and on the next possession, when the Sals collapsed around the big man, he found an open Mo Konneh for a three-pointer that put the Warriors back on top, 22-21. This time, Caulk answered for the Sals, hitting two straight shots, and Hinds buried a mid-range jumper to put the hosts back on top by five.
Sanford scored the next three points on a dunk by Njoku and the ensuing free throw, but Hinds stepped up. He hit a high-arc 15-footer, went back and grabbed a defensive rebound, then finished the next Sals possession with a beautiful 12-foot floater. The lead was 31-27 after three.
Neither team could find the range as the fourth quarter progressed. Salesianum had two free throws in the first four and a half minutes, and Carter Ruby’s shot underneath with 3:40 to go marked the Warriors’ first score of the quarter.
Njoku cut a point off the lead with a free throw, but several empty possessions followed for both squads.
Hinds fed Caulk for a layup with 23 seconds remaining, the Sals’ lone field goal of the quarter. This time, Polk anwered with a three, cutting the lead to a deuce with 12.7 seconds left. Hinds hit two clutch free throws to make it a two-possession game, but Konneh quickly cut two of the points off the lead.
The Warriors sent Hinds to the line once more with 1.8 to go, and the senior hit the first free throw. He missed the second, but Dwyer’s desperation heave from three-quarter court length was well short and wide of the mark. Hinds, the all-state soccer player, ripped off his jersey in classic soccer style and celebrated with his teammates at mid-court.
Caulk finished with 14 and Hinds 11 for the Sals, who are now 8-3. They close out the regular season on Thursday at Archmere at 6:15 p.m.
For the Warriors, Njoku and Konneh each had 10. Sanford (10-2) visits Tower Hill in its regular-season finale at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
The win was the first for the Sals against Sanford since Jan. 28, 2014. The leading scorers that night were Eric Ayala for the Warriors, who is now leading the University of Maryland Terrapins at 14.6 points per game as a junior; and Brian O’Neill, the starting right tackle for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League.
All photos by Mike Lang.