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Magical run comes to an end for Blue Hens with 80-60 loss to Villanova in NCAA Tournament

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Courtesy of Mark Campbell/Delaware Athletics
Despite 17 points from redshirt freshman Jyáre Davis, the Blue Hens were not able to keep up with No. 2 Villanova, exiting the tournament with an 80-60 defeat.

Managing Sports Editor

A season filled with hard work, up and down swings and a late-season turnaround came to a screeching halt Friday afternoon for the Delaware Blue Hens. The college basketball behemoth of Villanova and its head coach Jay Wright stood in the way, and no one from Newark was able to crack the beast.

In the men’s basketball program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2014, the Hens fell 80-60 in a first round matchup against the No. 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats.

“Villanova has been the best program in college basketball, they have been the model program,” Delaware head coach Martin Ingelsby said in a postgame press conference. “As I’ve built my program, I’ve tried to model how we do things very similar to how Jay’s run his program.”

Replication of the Villanova standard was not enough to take down the Wildcats, who have been a staple in the Big East and the nation with two championships in the past six tournaments.

For the dynamic fifth-year duo of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Allen, the journey to becoming a champion was complete, but the path ended in defeat.

“After the game, it was just hitting me like ‘wow, it’s really over,’” Anderson said. “I feel like my past five years here, I really matured. With the guys this year, this was the first time in a long time that the team was a real, actual family.”

Anderson and Allen joined Ingelsby in rebuilding the program back in 2016. Following an underwhelming quarterfinal exit in last year’s Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament, the two leaders along with graduate forward Dylan Painter returned for an extra year thanks to added eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Patrick LaPorte/The Review
Anderson (left) and Allen (right) stuck with the program for five years, and were finally able to reach the NCAA tournament in their final seasons at Delaware.

“The finality of this always stings, but I am super, super proud of our group and how we competed,” Ingelsby said. “We battled, we got after it, got off to a really good start in the first half and put a little scare in them.”

Painter, a member of the 2018 Villanova national championship team, transferred to Delaware the following season and got his first chance to play versus his former team and teammates. He came off the bench to score six points in 15 minutes of action, as redshirt freshman and Providence transfer Jyáre Davis received his fourth straight start.

Davis showed no nerves on the national stage, leading the offense for Delaware with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Sophomore forward Andrew Carr followed suit, hitting all five of his shot attempts to tally 13 points.

“We have a competitive group of guys and we were playing the Golden State Warriors,” Davis said. “Definitely going into the game we expected to win and throughout the whole game we expected to win.”

Struggles from beyond the arc plagued the Blue Hens, who needed stronger shooting to contend with a stout Villanova offense. 3-of-20 from deep were the Blue Hens, including an uncharacteristic 1-of-5 from junior guard Jameer Nelson Jr.

“Their switching got us stagnant offensively,” Anderson said. “I also think it was on us, we were missing a lot of open shots and shots we usually make.”

The Hens came out hot, jumping out to a 9-4 lead after Anderson knocked down a triple. Painter came off the bench to get his first points of the game, putting Delaware up 15-8.

“We appreciated it,” Anderson said referring to the early lead, “but as soon as we started appreciating it they started hitting threes.”

From that moment the multifaceted Wildcats , who knocked down 13 three-pointers, found their offensive rhythm. A triple from point guard Collin Gillepsie and an old-fashioned three-point play by 6’8 forward Eric Dixon cut the Blue Hens lead to one possession.

Redshirt senior Caleb Daniels followed with a three-pointer of his own at the 7:41 mark to bring Villanova in the lead for the first time since the opening minutes. Fifth year guard Ryan Allen came right back with a driving layup to temporarily put Delaware back atop. 

A Painter feed to Davis extended the Hens’ lead to three, but from there, Villanova began a 13-2 run to close the half. A Nelson Jr. dunk attempt was rejected by Villanova forward Brandon Slater, and despite notable contact to Nelson’s body, the officials let play continue.

Wright’s team took advantage, connecting on three shots from deep to close the first half with a 35-25 lead. The bleeding for the underdogs would only continue coming out of the locker room.

Two Delaware turnovers turned into five Villanova points and a Dixon three stretched the deficit to 43-25. Five points from Carr rejuvenated the Delaware offense, but strong shooting from junior guard Justin Moore thwarted the Blue Hens’ comeback hopes.

“That last two or three minutes of the first half into the start of the second half, they were able to get separation,” Ingelsby said. “And then they can swallow you up on the defensive end with their positional side and physicality.”

Moore — who scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the second frame — helped the Wildcats to their first lead over 20 points with just over 11 minutes to go.

The last gasp for Delaware came when Wright received a technical, leading to four consecutive free throws from Anderson and Davis , bringing the margin to 18. The Blue Hens never cut it within 16 during the final minutes.

Delaware’s senior core were met with standing ovations, as Allen and Anderson checked out of the game late and exchanged their final words on the court together. Painter, a 2018 national champion with Villanova, and Davis, the CAA Rookie of the Year, were also met with applause from the crowd.

Patrick LaPorte/The Review
Head coach Martin Ingelsby (above) cuts down the nets after his first CAA Championship with the Blue Hens, a feat he will try to repeat in the coming years.

“All credit to them, they took us on an unbelievable journey,” Ingelsby said of the seniors. “They moved our program forward, I think they raised the bar for Delaware basketball on a big stage.”

While the losses of Allen, Anderson and Painter will be an obstacle to overcome for Ingelsby and the team, young talents remain present in Newark, namely Sanford High School’s Davis.

“I came back here to Delaware to do something special for the state of Delaware and the university,” Davis said. “I hope I can do more to help put us on the map and come back here next year and win some games.”

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