Oh so close: Blue Hens hang close with No. 20 Villanova, get edged out 78-70 in Never Forget Tribute Classic, Struggle early in conference play
Managing Sports Editor
Delaware cut Villanova’s lead to as close as one point with 13:18 left in the second half, but Villanova was able to extend the lead to 10 five times. The Blue Hens were able to cut it to a five-point game with 0:38 left but Villanova hit their free throws and left the Prudential Center with a 78-70 victory over the Blue Hens on a Dec. 14th game on national TV.
“Really proud of our group to come down here on a big stage and play a Villanova basketball program and battle,” Head Coach Martin Ingelsby said. “Unfortunately we didn’t come out with a victory but I do think we played well on a big stage. We went for it, we were fearless.”
Ingelsby gave his team the mindset that they could pull out a victory.
“I had two things written on the board: ‘How do we bounce back after a loss?’ And then I had the word below that, ‘Believe,’ and I told them I believed in them, they’ve got to believe in each other, believe in this team for 40 minutes,” Ingeslby said. “And for the next two hours, got to be able to leave it all out there. Because we can compete on this stage against these guys. There’s a confidence about this group that we can play with anybody.”
The Blue Hens even received a shoutout from Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright on Twitter after the game for their performance. He also added some praise in the postgame press conference.
“Hard fought game,” Wright said. “I give a lot of credit to Delaware and Martin having the guys really dialed in. They had a great game plan, executed well, played with great intensity. I think we played a good team today.”
Delaware scored the first points of the game on a three-pointer from junior guard Kevin Anderson, but Villanova went on a 15-4 run to take a 12-point lead with 13:14 left in the first half. Delaware went on a 6-0 run of their own to cut the deficit to six.
The teams went back and forth for the next few minutes before Villanova was able to go up by 10 again with 3:54 to go in the first half. Junior guard Nate Darling cut the deficit to five twice before halftime with two three-pointers in 45 seconds. Villanova held a slim 37-32 lead going into the locker room.
The second half was just as competitive as the first. Villanova sophomore forward Saddiq Bey extended Villanova’s lead to eight on an and-one layup with 14:11 remaining. However, consecutive three-pointers by Anderson and Darling, sandwiched by a Darling free throw, cut the deficit to just one with 13:18 left.
Delaware hung close for the next few minutes, but Villanova went up by 10 with 4:56 left. Darling cut the deficit to five on a three-pointer with 0:38 left, but Villanova made their free throws to pull away for the 78-70 victory.
Darling led the way for the Blue Hens with 29 points on 6-11 shooting from three-point land and added five assists. Anderson had 14 points. His backcourt mate, junior guard Ryan Allen, was the third scorer in double figures with 10. Redshirt sophomore forward Justyn Mutts added eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Redshirt senior Collin Goss chipped in with seven points.
“Our backcourt me, Kevin [Anderson] and Ryan [Allen] before the season started, [we were] practicing and playing with them and getting really our groove together because I was a red shirt last year,” Darling said. “So, coming in, we were looking at each other like ‘Yo, we might be the best backcourt in the country,’ you know? It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or what we’re doing, we’ve got confidence.”
Delaware shot 57% from the field (27-47) and 53% from three (9-17), but only shot 44% (7-16) from the free throw line. They held Villanova to 47% shooting from the field (27-57) and 32% from three (10-31).
The teams were fairly even in a few statistical categories including point off turnovers (Delaware 17 to Villanova’s 18) and fast break points (Delaware 9 to Villanova’s 8), and both teams had 32 points in the paint. A few big differences in the game include Villanova’s bench outscoring Delaware 18-2 and Villanova’s 13 second-chance points to Delaware’s zero.
“We’re a super confident team overall,” Darling said. “Every single game we come in we’re expecting to win. All of our players, I think they have a confidence level, they think they can play at the highest level. I definitely think I can play at the highest level. So, coming into these games it’s not like ‘Ooh, we’re playing the big, bad Villanova.’ It’s like we’re playing another game.”
However, the team is not distraught by a loss to a Top-20 team. They relished the opportunity to play Villanova and desire to get on the big stage again in the NCAA Tournament.
“I mean, yeah, that’s definitely one of the ultimate goals for us,” Darling said. “But when you’re out there playing, you’re just playing basketball, so you don’t really think about it at the time.”
Ingelsby held praise for the flurry of Blue Hens fans that made the trip to the Prudential Center.
“We had great energy behind our bench,” Ingeslby said. “I think this is a game that a lot of people had circled on our schedule for a long time when we announced it in the middle of, I guess, the summer. We had a good crowd. I felt like it felt like kind of an NCAA Tournament game. Neutral court, against Villanova. Hopefully we can remember the feeling of what it felt like to play on a big stage like this and hopefully have an opportunity again moving forward.”
Delaware got revenge against Delaware State just two days after their battle with Villanova. They lost a heatreaker to the Hornets last year 73-71 on a Kevin Larkin putback at the buzzer. They sneaked past the Hornets on Monday with a 86-78 victory in the 76ers Fieldhouse. Redshirt junior forward, Dylan Painter, a 2018 transfer from Villanova, played in his first game as a Blue Hen after being declared eligible following the Fall semester. Painter poured in 19 points on an efficient 8-11 shooting in just 18 minutes in his debut.
Delaware finished 10-3 in non conference play but have lost seven of their last eleven games and hold a 3-4 record in conference play, where they sit seventh in the standings. The team has two very challenging road games next week, traveling to play Hofstra and Northeastern. Delaware will have to win those two games in order to stay in contention for a top four seed in the CAA.