Late free throws key in Sussex Tech’s second-round victory

GEORGETOWN – In a game featuring a combined 13 three-pointers and 15 lead changes, Thursday night’s DIAA state tournament second-round showdown between Mount Pleasant and Sussex Tech came down to free throws.

No. 6 Sussex Tech drilled 16 of its 18 fourth-quarter free throw attempts to fend off No. 11 Mount Pleasant, 63-62.

“We put a tremendous amount of time on that in practice,” head coach Damon Ayers said of the team’s free throws. “We put them in situations where they are 1-and-1, they don’t make it they might run a suicide or whatever. So, our guys have really been knocking free throws down here in the past couple of games, which has been really vital as far as us being able to close out games down the stretch.”

The second-round win sends the Ravens to the Bob Carpenter Center to face No. 3 Smyrna in the quarterfinals Saturday, March 3 at 6 p.m.

Tech went 16-of-18 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter alone (Sussex Post/Ben Heck).

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” said senior guard Khalil Bolden following the win. “We’re just so excited, the things we’ve been through. We won five games the last two seasons, this win tonight is really something special. It’s a dream come true, but we’re not finished.”

Sophomore guard Devon Reynolds led the scoring for the Ravens, putting up 14 points on the night. Senior guard Jaquan Burton added another 12 points, while senior Dominick Conquest racked up 11.

Tied 57-57 with 1:28 to play, it was Conquest who put the Ravens in good position with a go-ahead basket with 27 seconds to spare.

Four free throws from Bolden (two) and sophomore guard Ricky Kane (two) in the final 10 seconds sealed the victory.

“We put our kids in positions like this (in practice) so that they can stay poised throughout the whole process,” Ayers said. “So, our guys were able to maintain it and get a lay-up down the stretch to give us the lead back and then it was just a matter of getting a couple of stops here and there and to make free throws.”

Senior Dominick Conquest hit a go-ahead bucket with 27 seconds to play in the fourth quarter for Sussex Tech (Sussex Post/Ben Heck).

From the opening tip-off, the game featured fast-paced offense from both squads, leading to one of the quickest first halves all basketball season.

In just over 20 minutes real-time, the Tech and Mt. Pleasant squads went into the halftime break in a 27-27 deadlock. The first half featured seven three-pointers and six second-quarter lead changes.

The third quarter saw similar pace, with five lead changes and another deadlock, 42-42, heading into the final eight minutes of play.

Trailing 45-42 at the 7:12 mark of the fourth quarter, Tech would put up eight unanswered points on free throws alone to build a five-point lead – its largest lead of the night.

Mt. Pleasant would climb back into the game, tying things up once more, 53-53, with just over three minutes remaining on the game clock.

Burton answered with a three-pointer, taking the 56-53 Tech lead before back-to-back Mt. Pleasant buckets handed the 57-56 lead right back over to the Green Knights.

Reynolds knocked down a crucial free throw for Tech on a one-and-one with 1:28 remaining to tie the game up 57-57.

Sussex Tech’s student section showed up in full force in Georgetown Thursday night (Sussex Post/Ben Heck).

“You never know what it’s going to come down to, but we were just ready for anything that came our way,” Reynolds said. “We trust each other, we know anyone can do anything on the court.”

A defensive stop for the Ravens led to Conquest’s go-ahead basket.

By game’s end, Tech had drained 18 of its 20 free throw attempts to set-up Saturday’s quarterfinals showdown.

With a combined 5-35 mark in the previous two seasons, coach Ayers has turned the team around in his first year at the helm in Georgetown.

“I tell you, a lot of it has been time. These guys have really taken initiative and sacrificed their time and put a lot of energy toward the off-season,” Ayers said of the team’s turn-around. “Since last April, they’ve just been dedicating their time. From beach workouts, to open gym, to camps, to tournaments. We constantly preached to them if they do these things then there’s positive dividends at the end for them. So they’re starting to see the rewards.”

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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