NEWARK – Howard’s basketball players came into the Bob Carpenter Center on Saturday afternoon on a mission. None had forgotten the loss Sanford had pinned on them in last year’s boys basketball semifinal round, and they were determined to reverse course this year in the state final.
The Wildcats took control early and never let up, defeating Sanford in convincing fashion, 81-62, in the DIAA championship game in front of 3,986 at the Bob Carpenter. Howard used its speed advantage to overcome Sanford’s big men, shooting better than 46 percent to win the school’s first title since 1996. The loss ended Sanford’s three-year stranglehold on the championship.
“Last year left a bad taste in our mouths, and this year we wanted to show them we were working hard. And we showed them,” Howard guard Tyaire Ponzo-Meek said of Sanford’s 68-46 win in the 2012 quarterfinal round.
“It was a big motivation. I’m glad it happened. We camne back stronger than ever,” he added.
Teammate Larry Woody said second-seeded Howard was determined to end the Sanford streak. “It feels great. We did not want them to get that fourth one on us. We have friends on that team, but we told them they were not going to get that fourth one.”
This was the fourth state championship for the Wildcats. The first was 40 years ago, when the team went undefeated. Howard coach Chris DiMascio said that team was an inspiration for the current squad. DiMascio said one of the members of the 1973 team spoke to the players earlier this year and told them they were going to be state champions.
“As it got closer and closer, I honestly felt that this was a destiny situation for our high school,” he said.
Howard finished the season 23-1, the lone loss coming at Mount Pleasant by two points. They ended the season winning their last 18 games. Top-ranked Sanford ended up 19-5.
Ponzo-Meek led the assault for Howard, pouring in a game-high 25 points, including 10 iof 12 from the free throw line. Howard’s speed created numerous opportunities from the charity stripe, as the Wildcats outscored Sanford, 29-12, from the line. Woody was a perfect six-for-six from the line on his way to 16 points, and Gjaimeir Stanford also had six free throw points and 15 for the game.
Sanford never seemed to get into a rhythm, and the game was tied just once, a 4-4, after Anthony Mosley hit a three-point shot and an ensuing free throw early on. Bryan Wright scored the next four points for Howard, and the outcome was seldom in doubt after that.
“It was defense. We came into this game expecting to play great defense, and we practiced it yesterday. It was our best practice of the season, and we were ready for them,” Ponzo-meek said.
Sanford trailed, 13-6, then scored five straight, leading to a timeout by Howard coach Chris DiMascio. A free throw by Woody ignited an eight-point run as the quarter ended. They built on the lead from there. Sanford made a run, shrinking a 32-19 deficit to 34-29. Anthony Mosley carried the Warriors in the first half, scoring 15 of his 19 before intermission. Sabri Thompson heated up in the third, when he scored nine, but he received little help from his teammates.
Howard, lacking the size of Sanford, hustled its way to a slight rebounding edge and a 22-16 advantage on second-chance points. By the end of the third quarter, the lead had grown to 15, and the Howard fans cheered as the minutes creeped downward. When the game finally ended, a large number of blue-clad spectators rushed the floor despite the presence of University of Delaware security personnel and police. DiMascio was mobbed by family and friends as his players took turns cutting down the net.
Todd Hughes tied Mosley for high-scoring honors for Sanford with 19; he scored 11 of those in the final quarter. Thompson added 16.
Sanford coach Stan Waterman credited Howard with taking the Warriors out of their game.
“They shot the ball well. We had a hard time staying in front of their guards,” said Waterman, a Howard alumnus. “They were just the better team today. They were hungrier, they got to the long rebounds, they got the loose balls, they did all the little things well today.”
“They’ve had an outstanding season, and it was a nice way for them to cap it off. We’ve been there, so I know how he feels today. He’s got to be feeling great, and his kids should be proud.”