Cushing’s clutch shot lifts Delaware over Elon

Delaware celebrates Jacob Cushing’s late three which gave the Blue Hens a win against Elon. Delaware Sports Information/Ryan Griffith

NEWARK — The long pass did seem to hang in the air forever, said Jacob Cushing.

But after that, it was all just reflex.

Catch, Square up. Release.

Swish.

This particular three-pointer, though, was the biggest shot of Cushing’s basketball career.

The 6-foot-8 reserve senior’s dramatic shot with just 5.2 seconds left gave Delaware something it desperately needed — a thrilling 79-78 victory over Elon in CAA men’s basketball at the Carpenter Center on Saturday afternoon.

After losing seven of their last 10 games, the Hens (3-4 CAA, 13-7 overall) would have been crushed by losing to the underdog Phoenix (1-6 CAA, 5-15 overall).

But Cushing saved them from that fate when he caught a kick-out pass from guard Ryan Allen, who tried to drive to the basket but was cut off by three Elon defenders. Cushing was leveled by a Phoenix player after he released the shot from a few feet beyond the top of the three-point circle.

Not bad for a guy who recently went seven games in a row without playing and who made just 12 shots all year before Saturday.

“It felt good leaving my hands,” said Cushing, who hit a pair of threes in the game. “I’m glad I could contribute to the win. … I’m always confident in my jump shot.

“It felt like the ball was in the air for a very long time before I actually got it. I just made sure I had good preparation prior to getting the ball. … I’ve hit game-winners before (in high school) but not to that magnitude. That was pretty cool.”

Elon did have time to set up one last play after Cushing’s shot. But, following back-to-back timeouts, a three-point attempt by Hunter McIntosh — which missed anyway — came after the buzzer.

Junior guard Nate Darling, who netted a game-high 21 points, said this was something Delaware really needed.

“I haven’t seen our group of guys, the togetherness we had today,” he said. “We were locked in. It was getting back to Delaware basketball.

“Credit to him,” Darling said about Cushing. “A lot of guys would have just put their head down. But he came in and he took advantage of his opportunity. He’s playing his role and that was the biggest shot of his life. I’m really happy for him.”

Saturday’s contest marked just the second time in the last six games that Delaware finished with more than 68 points. Besides Darling, Allen (18) and Justyn Mutts (17) also scored in double figures while the Hens hit a blistering 64 percent (16-of-25) from the field in the second half.

The problem was that Delaware just couldn’t shake the Phoenix. The contest featured 16 ties and 18 lead changes with neither squad leading by more than seven.

And no more than three points separated the two teams over the final 17 minutes.

Elon almost doubled its total from the 41 points it tallied in a loss at Drexel on Thursday. That’s because, after sinking just 4-of-24 three-pointer against the Dragons, the Phoenix were 12-of-25 from behind the arc against Delaware.

“There were times when we took a lead and we couldn’t get a stop,” said UD coach Martin Ingelsby. “When I saw that they shot 4-of-24 on Thursday night against Drexel, it’s the law of averages a little bit. … They’re getting a lot of threes up. They’ve got a lot of shooters out there.

“There’s no doubt we’ve got to be better, more physical and tougher on the defensive end as we move forward.”

Delaware was glad to see Mutts come through with his 17-point effort. The sophomore forward had gone scoreless for the first time this season in a loss to William & Mary on Thursday.

But the Hens got the ball inside to him on four straight possessions to start the game and Mutts scored on all of them. He was 8-of-11 from the floor with five rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.

Mutts, who has fouled out of seven games this season, did pick up four fouls but was still on the court at the end of the game.

“I was listening to the radio and I’m like No. 7 in the country right now in fouls per game,” said Mutts, who has been called for 77 fouls this season. “I’m No. 1 in the CAA. That’s tough, that’s terrible.

“I’m an aggressive, passionate person, especially when it comes to defense. I’ll do anything and everything I can to get a stop. And, a lot of times, that gets me in trouble. It’s more so just about being smart. Today I was able to do that.

“There were a couple times where the old me would have done some things and I would have fouled out really early. But I just relaxed, calmed down and tried to play within myself.”

At least for one day the Hens left the Carpenter Center court feeling pretty good about themselves — thanks to Cushing.

“That would have been a crushing loss for us,” said Darling. “We were all excited, we were all together. It was just like the story for Jake to hit that shot.

“You should see our locker room — everyone is smiling, everyone is happy for each other. … I think it’s a good, big step forward for us.”

Free throws

Guard Kevin Anderson, who still played 36 minutes despite fouling out, collected seven points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. … Allen added five assists while Darling was the only player to play all 40 minutes. … Elon sophomore Andy Pack, who was averaging just 1.3 ppg, netted a career-high 16 points after going 4-for-5 from three-point range. … Delaware next plays at Hofstra on Thursday night before going to Northeastern on Saturday.