Men’s Basketball is ready for big challenge of CAA Tournament

Mens Basketball Celebration
Courtesy of Sarah Boekholder, Delaware Athletics/THE
REVIEW

Nate Darling (3) has been the go-to guy for the Blue Hens all season long.

BY
Managing Sports Editor

March is finally here!

Indeed, the month where magic happens, where everything that’s happened throughout the season is in vain. Everyone is 0-0. This is the year where Delaware Men’s Basketball has a legitimate shot of winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament. The team certainly has the talent to do it, but winning three games in three days is no easy task. All eyes are set to the nation’s capital for the 2020 Hercules Tire CAA Men’s Basketball Championship, where Delaware will begin their quest for the CAA Championship on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. facing off against the No. 4 seed, College of Charleston

Delaware finished the regular season 21-10 and 11-7 in conference play, good for the fifth seed in the league standings. The Blue Hens have won 11 CAA games for the fourth time and have reached 21 wins for the fifth time in program history. Delaware has increased its win total each year under Head Coach Martin Ingelsby.

“Really happy with the regular season we had, and I think it shows the progress of our team and our program,” Ingelsby said.

Ingelsby is all too familiar with Charleston, and not in a good way, as Ingelsby has never beaten the Cougars as head man of the Blue Hens. Delaware has lost nine straight to the Cougars, including a 75-63 decision at home on Dec. 30 and an 80-71 defeat on the road on Feb. 27. Delaware led at halftime in both games and during the matchup at Charleston, the Blue Hens led 59-49 with 6:31 remaining in the game, but Charleston proceeded to make six consecutive three-pointers en route to a 22-4 run to take command.

“When [Delaware players] saw the matchup, there was a little extra motivation from what happened last Thursday down in Charleston,” Ingelsby said. “I’m hoping to get that monkey off our back.”

The main threat to look out for for Charleston is senior Grant Riller who averaged 21.7 points-per-game this season. Ingelsby went through defensive sets on Thursday, focusing on how to stop Riller.

“He’s a dynamic scorer,” Ingelsby said. “Sometimes you gotta do the best you can and play him without fouling and maybe he’s gonna get 20-25 [points], but you limit the other guys. He’s really good in transition, so when he’s coming downhill you wanna make sure he sees half a body on each side of whoever’s guarding him.”

The Blue Hens offense has been firing all season long. Delaware ranked second in the league, averaging 74.6 points-per-game and first in the league with a 48% field goal percentage. However, the Blue Hens struggled on the defensive end, ranking sixth in the league by giving up 70.6 points a night. Ingelsby stressed that the team needs to improve on the defensive end.

“That’s the most important thing for us right now,” Ingelsby said of improving his team’s defense. “Make no mistake about it, we gotta be better defensively. And we’ve done it, we’ve gotta do it more consistently. If we’re gonna be able to survive and advance in March, we have to be better and more consistent defensively.”

The defense has stepped up in crucial moments, such as limiting UNCW to 25 points in the second half during the regular season finale. Ingelsby stressed that the team cannot just focus on Riller against Charleston.

“We gotta do a better job on their complementary players,” Ingelsby said. “[Brevin] Galloway and Sam Miller, those guys have really hurt us and have been effective from the three-point line.”

Galloway, who averaged 11.2 points during the regular season, scored 19 points in the second half last Thursday against Delaware. He also added 14 points and four steals in the first matchup.

Delaware has a star-studded starting lineup, led by redshirt junior guard Nate Darling, out of Halifax, Canada. The “Halifax Hen” was named First Team All-CAA on Friday after averaging 21.1 points-per-game, ranking third in the CAA and 17th in the country. His 99 three-pointers made are a single season school record and rank seventh in the country. Darling is the fifth Blue Hen to earn First Team Honors. Darling has also been able to rely on his teammates, recording four or more assists in 10 games.

“We have a lot of guys, a lot of weapons, and I think everyone’s gonna be down there locked in,” Darling said. “I hope our guys bring it, if I have to score 20, 10, 15, 30, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t go into a game looking to score a lot of points, I just go in, my teammates find me, and I shoot them so hopefully we can have a balanced effort, cuz usually when we have a balanced effort we go home with W’s.”

Darling has noticed a buzz around campus with what the team has been able to do.

“It’s happened a couple times,” Darling said of being recognized around campus. “In class, a guy asked me ‘Are you Nate Darling?’ so I guess we have a little bit of a buzz going.”

Joining Darling on an All-CAA squad is junior guard Kevin Anderson who was named to the Third Team. Anderson averaged 11.6 points-per-game, led the team in assists (116) and steals (41). He hit the game-winning layup at the buzzer at Hofstra earlier in the season.

In addition to Darling and Anderson, Delaware also comes packing with junior guard Ryan Allen, who ranks second on the team with 12.2 points-per-game. Allen was in a shooting slump throughout parts of the season, but has recently found his stroke, hitting seven threes in the last two games.

“It’s very important,” Allen said when asked how important it was for the team for him to get his shot back. “We got great shooters, great players like Nate Darling, Justyn Mutts, Kevin Anderson, Dylan Painter, Collin Goss, adding my three to the game helps open things up for them. This is the year everybody’s expecting us to win.”

Ingelsby said it was important for Allen to find his shot.

“He’s very confident right now,” Ingelsby said. “He’s coming off a weekend where he’s made seven threes. I think he’s very comfortable with his stroke.”

Delaware has a force in the frontcourt with sophomore forward Justyn Mutts and redshirt junior forward Dylan Painter. Mutts, a transfer from High Point, averaged 12.1 points-per-game and was fifth in the CAA with 8.4 rebounds-per-game. He had 10 double-doubles on the year and the team was 7-3 when he made those marks. Mutts said he is willing to do whatever he can to help his team win.

“Just go out there and do what I gotta do,” Mutts said of what we can expect from him in the CAA Tournament. “Just try and help my team win. Whatever it takes for us to get a dub is what I gotta do. If I gotta get a double-double then I’ll do that, if it’s zero points, zero rebounds and I’m on the bench cheering em on, that’s what I’ll do.”

Painter was a mid-year transfer last season out of Villanova, who became eligible at the end of the first semester this year. He averaged 9.3 points- and 4.5 rebounds-per-night. Painter was a part of the 2017-18 National Championship Team for the Villanova Wildcats.

“I think it kinda helped us stay humble throughout the season,” Painter said of his experience winning the National Championship. “At Villanova, there used to be a lot of highs and I think just staying focused everyday whether you’re at a high point or low point is really important in the season.”

Delaware started the season 9-0 before losing seven of their next ten games. The team then proceeded to win seven consecutive games, all in conference.

If Delaware wants any chance at the CAA championship, it’s going to need to play some defense. The team has a chip on it’s shoulder, having never beaten Charleston with this group of players. If the streak ends here, anything can happen.

“We’ve been playing well, we’ve had good stretches, we’re just trying to put it together, and that’s the feeling everybody’s getting,” Allen said.

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