Blue Hens hang tough against No. 20 Villanova, fall 78-70

Blue Hen guard Nate Darling, who finished with 29 points, brings the ball up against Villanova’s Brandon Slater on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK, N.J. — If all this was predictable, and Delaware never really had a chance to knock off Villanova, somebody forgot to tell Nate Darling.

True, the No. 20 Wildcats did end up beating the Blue Hens, 78-70, in men’s basketball at the Prudential Center on Saturday afternoon as part of the 4th annual Never Forget Tribute Classic.

But Darling, Delaware’s junior guard, said it was never because the Hens were just playing to keep the score respectable.
He said they were playing to win.

“We’re a super-confident team overall,” said Darling. “Every single game we come out, we’re expecting to win. All of our players have a confidence level — they think they could play at the highest level. I definitely think I could play at the highest level.

“Coming into these games, it’s not like we’re playing ‘big, bad Villanova.’ It’s like we’re playing another game. Credit to them, they’re a great team. But we’re … coming to win. We kept telling the guys, ‘we’re right there, we’re right there.’”

The Hens’ Collin Goss puts up a shot over Villanova’s Cole Swider.

Indeed, the Hens (9-2) never trailed by more than 10 points the rest of the way against the Wildcats (8-2). Probably their best chance to pull even came when, trailing 49-46 with 12:43 left, Ryan Allen had a three-pointer rim out.

Certainly, it was a far more competitive contest than the 30- and 31-point losses Villanova handed Delaware in their last two meetings.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “I give a lot of credit to Delaware. … They played with great intensity. I think we played a good team today.”

With Darling netting a game-high 29 points, the Hens kept nipping at the Wildcats’ heels. When Darling buried his sixth three-pointer, Delaware was still within 75-70 with 35.3 seconds remaining.

The Hens just couldn’t get any closer.

“I was really proud of our group,” said Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby. “Unfortunately we didn’t come out with a victory but we played well on a big stage.

“We went for it. We were fearless. As testament to Villanova, they made winning plays, they made their free throws. I thought when we got to three points we could put a little game pressure on them and get it tied or take the lead. But they made some plays. We could never get it tied.”

Delaware’s Ryan Allen looks to drive to the basket against Villanova. He ended up with 10 points.

In falling to 0-15 all-time against Villanova, the Hens’ only lead came when Kevin Anderson (14 points) hit a three-pointer for the first basket of the contest. The Wildcats, though, never led by more than 12 in the game with the Hens trailing by as little as 47-46 in the first eight minutes of the second half.

Jermaine Samuels tallied 18 points for Villanova, which had five players score in double figures.

If there were two glaring problems for the Hens it was their 15 turnovers and ice-cold 7-of-16 free-throw shooting. By comparison, the Wildcats were 14-of-17 from the foul line.

It was tough to feel like Delaware wasn’t at least a little nervous after missing six of its first eight foul shots in the 19,500-seat arena.

“I do feel like it was a little bit of nerves,” said Ingelsby. “Seven of 16 from the line is out of characteristic for this group. It really could have helped us if we were able to do a better job at the line.”

There is a feeling after a game like this that, if the Hens played like this every game, they’d have a pretty good record against the rest of their schedule. But it’s never that simple.

The Hens’ Nate Darling sank 6-of-11 three-pointers in Saturday’s game.

A year ago, Delaware lost at Maryland just 73-67 and then, a month and a half later, fell to a struggling Delaware State squad. The Hens will get the chance to see if they’ve learned their lesson on Monday when they face DSU at the 76ers Field House in Wilmington at 7 p.m.

“I’m never going to forget that DelState loss,” said Anderson, who had five assists. “That will always be a bitter taste in my mouth. So on Monday, we know we owe them something.”

The atmosphere for Saturday’s game, though, reminded Ingelsby a little bit of playing in an NCAA Tournament regional. Here the Hens were facing a Top 25 squad on a neutral court in a big arena.

If Delaware can win a CAA Tournament, they’d get that opportunity again.

“When you’re out there playing, you’re just playing basketball,” said Darling. “So you don’t really think about it at the time. But he (Ingelsby) did say it in the locker room. He was like, ‘We want to be here again, in the same position on this big stage.’

“Hopefully we can get there and take from today and turn it into a ‘W’ next time.”

Free throws

Villanova out-rebounded Delaware, 34-24, with 10 offensive boards. … The Hens’ Justyn Mutts added eight points and 11 rebounds but was 0-for-4 from the foul line. … The crowd for Saturday’s game, the second of a doubleheader that also included Mississippi State and Kansas State, was listed as 7,236.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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