for Henlopen North Title
Photo: Sussex Central forwards Frank Harris (top)and Jamil Young (middle) and Sussex Tech guard Brandon Hudson.
The Sussex Central High School boys' basketball team completed a titanic journey of adversity and exhaustion to dethrone Sussex Tech as the Henlopen Conference Northern Division champion on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003.
Playing for the fifth time in five nights and trailing Sussex Tech by 16 points in a tie-breaker for the Henlopen North crown, the Golden Knights summoned every bit of energy and courage for a 66-60 triumph at Cape Henlopen that propelled them into the conference championship game.
The Knights will face Henlopen South champion Laurel for that conference championship on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m., again in Cape Henlopen's gymnasium. Central defeated Laurel 79-64 back on Jan. 16.
Of course, that was back when life was easy for the Knights, who rolled through the midway point of the season with an unbeaten conference record.
Then came a loss to Sussex Tech on Feb. 4, the placement of head coach Jerry Jones on administrative leave, and a major winter storm that forced the Knights to play five games in five nights to finish their season in time for the post-season.
Meanwhile, standout forward Jamil Young, figuring the Knights wouldn't have to play last weekend, had to take a previously scheduled football recruiting trip to Northeastern and missed three of the games in that five-night stretch.
But, with assistant coach Tim Slade stepping up to head coach, the Knights have a chance to duplicate their last conference title in 2001 -- also achieved under Slade, then the Knights' head coach before stepping down to focus on his new duties as the school's assistant principal.
For a long time Tuesday night, it looked like all of the adversity had finally caught up with the Knights as Tech, the defending Henlopen North and conference champion and chosen as the top seed for this year's boys' state basketball tournament, roared to a 37-15 first half lead before settling for a 37-21 advantage at intermission.
The Knights, however, summoned up whatever they had left to mount a comeback that would result in 45 second-half points.
First, they cut their deficit in half with a 19-11 third quarter advantage to trail 48-40 entering the final period.
Then, they ramped up their defense again to allow Tech just 12 points in the final period. Meanwhile, the offense got going, too, and Central took its first lead, at 50-48, on a dunk by forward Andrew Weatherly with 4:45 left in the game.
After the Ravens tied the score 50-50 on a jumper by Brandon Hudson, Central took the lead for good with five straight points on a layup by Young and a three-point play by Frank Harris.
Central finished the game off down the stretch by hitting six free throws. Harris and Young led the Knights with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Sussex Tech guard Brandon Hudson led all scorers with 26 points.
The playoff game was forced when Tech rolled past Seaford 85-51 and Central beat Caesar Rodney 67-49 on Monday, Feb. 24, to give both teams 17-2 conference records and a split in their head-to-head matchups. Central walloping Tech 94-76 in December and Tech returning the favor to Central by a 76-60 count on Feb. 4.
The Knights lost to Dover 78-60 on Saturday, Feb. 22, for their second division loss, but came back with a win over Milford on Sunday and the win over CR on Monday to stay in the hunt.
Tech, meanwhile, beat Caesar Rodney 85-47 on Saturday, Dover 63-60 on Sunday, and then Seaford on Monday to give it one last shot to defend its Henlopen North crown.
Central and Tech have combined for the last five Northern Division, with Tech winning in 1999, 2000 and 2002, and Central in 2001 and 2003, and the last four conference titles.
Laurel, meanwhile, captured its first Henlopen South crown and earned its first berth in the conference championship game.
The Bulldogs will be well-rested as they haven't played since clinching the South crown with a 53-39 win over Smyrna on Feb. 20.
While clinching the South, the Bulldogs have had a difficult time against the bigger schools from the Henlopen North. Including their loss to Central, Laurel went just 2-5 against Henlopen North squads.
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