With season on the line, Delaware delivers a “beautiful 20 minutes” to advance in CAA tournament
CHARLESTON, Sc. — A sense of relief emanated from Delaware Head Coach Martin Ingelsby as beads of water from his locker room dousing dripped from his forehead.
He couldn’t help but crack a smile before the media, with his team having just completed its best half of the season at the season’s most important juncture, to defeat William and Mary, 85-79, and advance to the CAA semifinals.
Down 14 at halftime, the Blue Hens trailed by 12 with 13:09 to play, when Eric Carter picked up his fourth foul. In the next 10 minutes, with Carter sidelined, Delaware erased that deficit and built a lead as large as eight on the backs of its youngest stars, Ithiel Horton and Ryan Allen, who drained three-pointer after three-pointer.
“It’s kind of a beautiful 20 minutes for us to see on the offensive end,” Ingelsby said. “I’ve been waiting for that for awhile.”
Delaware will face No. 1 Hofstra Monday at 6:00 p.m. in the CAA semifinals. The winner will advance to Tuesday’s CAA Championship.
Now in his third season at Delaware, Ingelsby has modeled his program’s playing style after that of his alma mater, Notre Dame — an offense fleet with shooters that can run the floor, and a defense that tires you for 40 minutes.
On the surface, it seemed like Ingelsby found the right mix heading into this season, between Allen, Horton and Kevin Anderson on the perimeter and Carter anchoring inside.
But frustratingly, it never came together for the Blue Hens in the regular season, just like in seasons past (Delaware lost in this, the quarterfinal, round in each of the last two seasons in Charleston). The Blue Hens entered Sunday’s matchup against William and Mary on a four-game losing streak and as losers of seven of their previous nine games. In that span, Delaware had the entirety of Sunday’s starting five active only twice.
But even with the full team participating, the pieces didn’t always fit. In CAA play, Delaware never had two 20-plus-point scorers. Delaware’s offense finished seventh in the league at 70.7 points per game.
It wasn’t until Sunday that Ingelsby could finally relax, as, for the first time, all three of Delaware’s young talented guards were on.
Trailing by 12 with 10:29 to play, Allen converted a four-point play to start a 16-2 Delaware run that would put the Blue Hens in front. Horton hit a transition three before Allen drilled two straight contested triples to give Delaware its first lead of the second half at 68-65 with 6:54 remaining.
Delaware opened the lead to eight, at 79-71, and never relinquished momentum. After William and Mary’s Matt Milon hit a three to close the score to 81-79, Delaware found an answer of their own as Darian Bryant hit a corner three to put the game away with less than 30 seconds.
Horton finished with 26 points on 9-15 shooting, including 6-9 shooting from three-point range. Allen added 23 points, 21 of which came in the second half, and Anderson tallied 15 points and a team-best seven assists.
“I felt really good coming into today’s game,” Horton said. “Over the past like nine games I wasn’t really playing that well, I was kind of like, up-and-down, up-and-down, but my teammates like trusted me from the beginning, saying, ‘We need you, we need you to make plays.’ So that’s what I did.”
William and Mary shot 69.2 percent in the first half to help open up a 45-31 halftime lead. Tribe forwards Nathan Knight and Justin Pierce, both of which earned spots on All-CAA teams, combined for 27 points on 11-16 shooting.
When Carter went to the bench with four fouls, Collin Goss replaced him and played most of the final 13 minutes. With Goss anchoring the defense, Knight and Pierce shot 3-14 combined in the second half.
“Can’t say enough about what Collin Goss gave us defensively when Eric Carter got in foul trouble,” Ingelsby said. “Thought he was fabulous.
“We altered our, kind of, scouting report heading into the second half. We were coming off of Matt Milon with Darian Bryant, but we decided to come off of [Luke] Loewe and [L.J.] Owens to give our big guys a little bit more help. I think that really changed a little bit of their rhythm on the offensive end and made some guys that maybe aren’t as potent, make some plays for them. They missed some shots and we were able to get down in transition, it really helped us.”
The Blue Hens hit 14 of their 24 three-point attempts, including 10-15 in the second half. They’ll now be tasked with trying to slow down Justin Wright-Foreman and the Hofstra Pride. Hofstra defeated James Madison, 76-67, earlier Sunday, to advance to the semifinals.
“I’d love to duplicate what we did in the second half,” Ingelsby said. “We’re going to have to score the basketball because they’re really good and they beat us handily up there and our place. We gotta get some rest. I think it’s important to get back and regroup.”
Hofstra defeated Delaware in Newark, 92-70, in the final game of the regular season on March 2. In the CAA opener on Dec. 28, Hofstra dealt Delaware its worst CAA loss ever, winning 91-46. Wright-Foreman finished the regular season second in scoring nationally at 26.8 points per game.
The semifinal appearance is Delaware’s first since 2014, when the Blue Hens defeated William and Mary, 75-74, in the CAA Championship. Delaware is now two wins from ending their four-season championship drought.