Darling leads Hens to 70-48 CAA rout of Northeastern

The Hens’ Justyn Mutts celebrates after a dunk in Delaware’s 22-point win over Northeastern on Thursday night. UD sports information/Sarah Boekholder

NEWARK — Nate Darling tried to explain just how it feels to be that hot.

Because, for about nine minutes on Thursday night, almost everything the Delaware junior guard put up found the bottom of the net.

“It’s like it’s just myself out there, there’s no other distractions,” said Darling. “It’s like thousands and thousands and thousands of shots over and over again. … It’s literally second nature out there. That’s what I play for — to get in those zones.”

With Darling leading the Blue Hens out of the gate, Delaware never looked back, cruising to a 70-48 CAA men’s basketball victory over Northeastern at the Carpenter Center on Thursday evening.

After having its seven-game winning streak snapped by William & Mary on Saturday, Delaware (10-5 CAA, 20-8 overall) stormed out to leads of 18-4 and 29-6 against the Huskies (7-8 CAA, 13-14).

In those first nine minutes, Darling was 4-for-4 from three-point range, 3-for-3 from the foul line and tallied 17 of the Hens’ first 27 points.

The funny thing is, Darling was so hot, he earned a seat on the bench for much of the night. With Delaware in control so quickly, he only played 28 minutes and didn’t score again.

Darling is one of the Division I leaders in minutes played at 38.5 minutes per game. So while Darling’s 17-point night ended a streak of six straight games with at least 24 points, it didn’t really matter.

Everyone was still impressed with the Canadian’s performance.

“I think I looked up at the scoreboard two or three minutes into the game and he had 14 points,” said UD coach Martin Ingelsby. “I’m like, ‘Is that correct?’

“He is such a confident guy for us, we want to get the ball in his hands. … He made some threes and then it opens up so many other things for us on the offensive end. He’s in such a rhythm now that I don’t want to say a whole lot — ‘You good?’ ‘Yeah, I’m good.’”

Delaware’s Nate Darling (right) netted 17 points in the first nine minutes and then got to relax most of the evening. Delaware sports information/Sarah Boekholder

It actually took Darling the first 4:39 of the game to score 14 points. He did have Delaware’s first 11 points of the contest.

“He’s a superstar,” junior forward Justyn Mutts said with a smile. “He’s a big-time shot-maker. He goes out there every day and does the same thing. He’s consistent with it. So it’s not even like it’s anything different for us.

“We see this every day in practice and in games. He’s just ‘The Man.’”

Once the Hens took their commanding lead, they never let Northeastern cut much into it. Delaware led 43-21 at halftime and went up by as many as 28 points in the second half.

The Hens never led by fewer than 21 points after intermission. Delaware’s 22-point margin of victory was its largest this winter since its season-opening 46-point win over Division III Bridgewater.

It was the Hens’ biggest win in a CAA game since 2006 when they dumped James Madison by 27 points.

Defensively, the 48 points were the fewest Delaware has allowed since a 70-47 win over Bradley in 2015.

With such a comfortable margin, Ingelsby emptied his bench with all 11 available players playing at least 1:48. Besides Darling, Mutts added 13 points and Ryan Allen had 10.

Six players scored at least seven.

Of course, what Ingelsby enjoyed most was his team’s defense. The Huskies shot just 37 percent for the game with Delaware blocking five shots — including three from center Dylan Painter.

“Our defensive effort was fabulous,” said Ingelsby. “That was something we really challenged our guys coming after the William & Mary game. I think in our 7-1 streak, we had given up 75 points a game. We needed to get back to a defensive identity.

“I thought we were locked in really sharp on the defensive end. To hold a Northeastern team that’s talented to 48 points, I know we can do it. We’ve just got to be able to do more consistently night in and night out.”

With three regular-season games remaining, Delaware is in third place in the CAA, a half game behind second-place William & Mary.

The Hens say they’re not overly concerned with the standings right now but they’re also well aware that the Hoftsra team they host on Saturday at 4 p.m. is in first place in the CAA. The Pride are 12-3 CAA, 21-7 overall.

“It’s a big game, it’s a statement game,” said Darling. “To sweep the best team in the league, that’s a statement. I think everybody knows we’re one of the top teams in the league already.

“We’re going to approach it like every other game. We’re going to watch film on them, get ready and get excited for the game.”

Free throws

Darling’s average of 30.3 ppg over the last six games were the most in a six-game stretch for a Delaware player. … Delaware has reached 20 wins in a season for the first time snce winning the conference title in 2014. … The Hens have only two seniors who will be honored before Saturday’s game — Collin Goss and Jacob Cushing. … Before Thursday, Northeastern’s seven CAA losses had come by a total of only 18 points.