Hens aim to end skid vs. Charleston as CAA tourney opens

“I think this group is confident,” said UD coach Martin Ingelsby. “We’re going down there loose and we’re going to play with a lot of freedom like we normally do.” UD sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Delaware has proven it is capable of stringing victories together.

The Blue Hens own winning streaks of nine straight and seven straight games this winter.

But winning three games in three days at the Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament is another matter.

And the challenge awaiting the Hens today may be as difficult as any potential tests Delaware could face in the tourney.

The fifth-seeded Hens (11-7 CAA, 21-10) take on No. 4 Charleston (11-7 CAA, 17-13 overall) today at 2:30 p.m. at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.

While Delaware has beaten or been competitive with everybody in the league, the trouble for the Hens is that they’ve lost nine in a row to the Cougars. They’re the only CAA team that Delaware hasn’t beaten in Martin Ingelsby’s four seasons as UD’s head coach.

But the Hens have believed in themselves ever since they opened the season on a nine-game winning streak. That hasn’t changed.

“I think this group is confident,” said Ingelsby. “We’re going down there loose and we’re going to play with a lot of freedom like we normally do.

“We know we’ve got a heck of a challenge against a really good team on Sunday in the College of Charleston. … We’re going to continue to do what we do. I think our guys are excited and very confident heading down to D.C.”

If Delaware is looking for hope it can look to its last meeting with Charleston just 10 days ago. The Hens led by 10 points with seven minutes left before the Cougars got red hot, hitting six straight three-pointers and pulling away to an 80-71 victory.

Of course nothing else matters if Delaware can’t win today. Looking at the big picture, however, Delaware probably has as little pressure on it as any of the top five teams in the CAA field.

Top-seeded Hofstra lost in the CAA finals last year when it was also the top seed. Second-seeded William & Mary is one of just four schools that has been eligible for every NCAA Division I tournament and never made it.

Third-seeded Towson hasn’t made the NCAAs since 1991 while Charleston, which just won the CAA crown in 2018, has its last chance with senior standout Grant Riller leading the way. Of course, sometimes pressure brings out the best in players.

With only two seniors on the roster — none of whom start — Delaware is set to be more of a contender for the title next year. The Hens have been to the NCAAs five times since 1992, the last time coming in 2014.

“We’re not going to over-analyze things,” said Ingelsby. “We’re not going to get them tight. We’re going to go down there really upbeat and confident. We’re going to give our guys a lot of freedom to play like they like to play.”

That approach worked for Delaware in last year’s conference tournament. Also seeded fifth, the Hens roared back from a 14-point deficit to upend No. 4 William & Mary in the quarterfinals before coming back from 15 down against top-seeded Hofstra the next night in the semifinals.

Delaware took the Pride to overtime before falling, 78-74. The second halves of those two games were some of the Hens’ best efforts of the season.

“I think this group has learned how to play together,” said Ingelsby. “They’ve dealt with some adversity, some ups and downs. They’ve been able to persevere.

“For us, I do think it’s about continuing to get better on the defensive end. When we’ve consistently guarded, been disciplined and stayed true to our habits on the defensive end, we’ve been able to grind out some games.

“We do have weapons on the offensive end. We have great balance. … This group is unselfish. They enjoy playing together. Hopefully we can get three in three days down in D.C.”