For a team playing its first game in the Carpenter Center, seeking an unprecedented accomplishment, Tower Hill School appeared surprisingly comfortable Thursday night.
The Hillers had an explanation for that.
Working to play defense, they suggested, isn’t subject to the whims of uncooperative rims or unfamiliar backgrounds that sometimes plague shooters in strange gyms.
“Effort and defense travels,” Tower Hill coach Patrick Kaiser said. “I thought that was kind of what set the tone tonight.”
Few in the soldout arena would have disagreed after the Hillers cruised past Seaford 58-42 in the first game of a DIAA Boys Basketball Tournament semifinal doubleheader.
No. 3-seeded Tower Hill (19-3) advanced to its first boys basketball championship game in the event’s 56-year history. The Hillers play No. 1-seeded Salesianum (15-8), which downed Howard 58-50 Thursday and handed Tower Hill a 54-46 setback Feb.3
The Hillers quickly grabbed a double-digit first-quarter lead by forcing six Seaford turnovers that fueled a balanced and effective offense. They finished the night shooting 50% overall from the field (19-for-38) and 54% on 3-pointers (7-for-13).
“We made them very uncomfortable,” said senior Davis Bland, “ . . . and we played really good offense which resulted from good defense. That was our game plan.”
Four Hillers scored in double figures – Dylan Shepherd (16 points), Bland (14, with four 3-pointers), Dean Shepherd (13) and Marty Coyne (10). Senior point guard D.J. McClendon dealt seven assists.
“Our motto is ‘We over me’ and that was a ‘We’ victory right there. Everybody had a hand in that,” said Kaiser, mentioning sixth man Charles Habgood and his important contributions as well.
That also, Kaiser added, “makes us hard to defend.”
Tower Hill had reached its first boys basketball state semifinal last year, losing 40-39 to Independent Conference rival and eventual champ Sanford. But that game was held at Sanford due to COVID protocols making the UD facility unavailable.
The Hillers had gotten there by stomping Seaford 56-25 in a quarterfinal game. But the Blue Jays had exacted some revenge in a 69-55 victory on Dec. 17 of this season, and the Hillers were coming off a gut-wrenching 43-41 quarterfinal win over St. Mark’s that required four overtimes.
“We knew coming into the season we had a pretty strong roster to make it back,” Dylan Shepherd said. “We have a really good chemistry together and kept on fighting and now we’re here.”
Tower Hill led 32-18 at halftime and 44-27 through three quarters, never giving Seaford a hint it could get into contention.
“I’m just super excited for the kids to have this opportunity,” said Kaiser, a former Tower Hill player. “We were so close last year, missed a trip to the Bob due to COVID, so I’m excited they had that experience and they made the most of it tonight.
“Now, one more step, one more game on Saturday. I hope we can keep playing defense like we did tonight.”
The No. 10-seeded Blue Jays (19-5) were playing in their first semifinal since 1997, when they won their lone state title.
But 33% shooting (15-for-42) and 15 turnovers, 10 coming in the first half, wouldn’t let them keep pace on this night. Seaford’s 42 points equaled a season low.
Careen Bolden scored 15 points and Brent Ricketts had 10 for the Blue Jays. Tyrese Fortune, a third-team All-State player who had been sidelined with a knee injury, saw five minutes of action.
“I felt like they played more as a team than we did tonight,” said Seaford coach Vince Evans, who was a senior guard on the 1997 title team.
“It starts with preparation. We had three days to prepare for this game and you could tell those guys, tonight meant everything to them. Can’t really say that about our guys. It happens. We can learn from it.”
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This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Tower Hill beats Seaford in DIAA boys basketball semifinals