Drexel rallies from 34 down for historic win over Hens: 85-83 comeback is largest in D-I men’s history

Blue Hen Freshman guard Ryan Allen, shown in an earlier game, hit five first-half threes before finishing 7-for-14 from beyond the arc and scoring 21 points. (UD sports information)

PHILADELPHIA — For 20 minutes, it looked like Delaware could do anything it wanted.

At one point on Thursday night, the Blue Hens led old rival Drexel by 34 — by 34 — in the first half.

All of which made what happened in the second half just that much more stunning.

In the biggest collapse in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history, Delaware somehow allowed the Dragons to come all the way back and claim an 85-83 victory in a Colonial Athletic Association matchup at the Daskalakis Center.

Drexel’s 34-point comeback topped the previous record of 32 set in 1950 when Duke rallied to beat Tulane.

With the contest tied 83-83, the game was decided when the officials called a foul on Delaware on a Tramaine Isabell three-point shot with just 2.2 seconds left.

Isabell, who netted 22 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, sank two of the three free throws and the Hens’ desperation three-pointer at the buzzer was off target.

Afterward all Delaware’s players could do was wonder what happened to the 53-19 lead they held with 2:31 left in the first half.

“The tide turned,” said Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby. “The crowd got into it, the momentum swung. We needed to slow down on the offensive end. Their pressure really got us playing fast. I thought we took some quick shots that really hurt us.

“We needed somebody to calm us down — to kind of take the bull by the horns and be like, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We didn’t really get that. … College basketball can be really hard. It can be really hard to win on the road. It was a tale of two halfs for us.

“The momentum swung. … I was just hoping that we could get it to a point where we had a big enough lead that the clock kept running. We just couldn’t get it.”

“It’s hard when you’re up 29 because things are going so good,” said junior forward Eric Carter, who scored 15 points. “It can almost seem like one or two backdoor layups or back-to-back threes (by Drexel) are nothing. But it’s inexcusable. We’ve got to be better. Turnovers, being rattled. We’ve just got to man up and execute.”

“We knew as a team they were going to come out fired up (in the second half),” said Blue Hen senior guard Anthony Mosley. “I mean especially down 29 on their home court. But we just didn’t do a good job handling the pressure in the end. We weren’t really tough with the ball and being aggressive.”

After outscoring Drexel (6-11 CAA, 12-18 overall) by a 56-29 margin in the first half, the Hens (5-12, 12-18) were outscored by a 56-27 margin the second half. Drexel scored a number of quick baskets off steals, forcing Delaware into eight second-half turnovers and 11-of-29 shooting from the floor.

The Dragons didn’t take their first lead until they went up 81-79 with 1:51 remaining. The Hens tied it for the last time at 83-83 on a basket by Ryan Daly (17 points) with only 10.4 seconds on the clock.

Without calling a timeout, Isabell brought the ball upcourt, held it for a few seconds and then put up the three. Whether he was actually fouled by Delaware’s Darian Bryant on the play was open to some debate.

Ingeslby said he didn’t get a good look at the play.

“I think that’s a tough one in that situation,” he said. “I’m not sure if he fouled him or not. We’ve been dinged twice this year on some three-point shots (at the end). That’s hard to overcome.”

“I would never say he didn’t (commit) the foul,” said Isabell as he broke into a laugh. “We won the game.”

Drexel coach Zach Spiker admitted his team didn’t play very good defense in the first half when Delaware sank 10-of-16 three-pointers — many of them on open looks. Freshman guard Ryan Allen hit five first-half threes before finishing 7-for-14 from beyond the arc and scoring 21 points.
But Spiker said he also never thought the game was out of reach.

“Our team did not quit,” he said. “We probably hung our heads a little bit. But there’s only one way to approach adversity and that’s to have a ‘next-play’ attitude and keep fighting.

“So many times we say, ‘It’s a great day to be a Dragon.’ Any time we had a dead ball in the second half, we said ‘It’s a great day for a comeback.’ And it certainly was.”

The Hens close the regular season on Saturday by hosting James Madison at 4 p.m. Despite having just snapped a nine-game losing streak in its last game, Delaware actually had a chance to finish sixth in the league and avoid a play-in game in the CAA Tournament.

There isn’t much hope of that now.

On the other hand, whether Thursday’s setback was one for the record books or not, it still only counts as one loss. Undoubtedly, the Hens will try to put it behind them as quickly as possible.

“You saw in the first half how we can share the ball and score — and pretty much do what we want to when we play together,” said Mosley, who had 14 points and six assists. “We’ve just got to do a better job when it goes south. We’ve got to stick together.”

“Every loss you learn things, but, especially with a loss like this, where things are going so well and it kind of kicks you in the rear at the end,” said Carter. “This is big learning point. We just have to be way better in second halfs.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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