Hens defeat UMES 75-56, equal best start in team history at 8-0

The Hens’ Nate Darling, who finished with a game-high 23 points, drives to the basket in Friday’s game. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Nobody sets out to break a record like this.

Indeed, coach Martin Ingelsby said a month ago he probably couldn’t have even told you what the best start in Delaware men’s basketball was.

But now that the Blue Hens have tied that mark, they say they’re not really surprised.

Delaware pulled away to a 75-56 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore to get to 8-0 on the season at the Carpenter Center on Friday night.

That’s a feat matched only by Delaware’s 1998-99 squad in former coach Mike Brey’s fourth season.

“I feel who we are as a team and the guys that we have — we have so much faith in each other — this is where we expected to be almost,” said sophomore forward Justyn Mutts.

“Those things come as a part of doing the right things,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to win the CAA title and make a big run at March Madness. But on the road to accomplishing those things, we’re going to accomplish things like this.”

That’s not to say the winless Hawks (0-8) didn’t keep things interesting on Friday night.

UD’s Justyn Mutts collected 22 points and 16 rebounds in Friday’s win over UMES. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

When Kevin Voyles buried three straight three-pointers and Ahmad Frost followed with a fourth one, UMES had whittled a 13-point Delaware lead down to just 50-46 with 11:55 still remaining.

The Hens, though, responded by netting 25 of the contest’s final 35 points to win going away.

Nate Darling had a lot to do with that. The first-year UAB transfer guard, originally from Canada, scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.

While the Hawks’ defense had a hand in limiting the 6-foot-5 guard to four first-half points, he also took only four shots in the opening 20 minutes.

“Our coaches always tell me, take your time, don’t force anything,” said Darling. “We’ve got a great group of guys who can all score. I wasn’t being passive, my shots weren’t there. In the second half I got some shots and I took them.”

In the second half, Darling was 7-for-11 from the floor, including 3-for-6 from three-point range. He’s eighth in Division I in scoring at 23.5 points per game.

“Nate could finish a half with zero points and I’m so confident he could come out and have 30 in the second half alone,” said Mutts. “He’s just that kind of player. He’s a microwave-kind-of-guy. He gets hot instantly. And once he’s got, it’s scary.”

Mutts himself finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds with junior guard Ryan Allen (19) giving the Hens’ almost a third 20-point scorer.

A 6-foot-7 sophomore, Mutts had 16 points and eight rebounds in the first half alone as Delaware built a 39-30 lead. The first-year transfer from High Point was just playing with a lot of energy.

“I think he’s a kid that’s really enjoying playing basketball,” said Ingelsby. “And he’s seeing the success. Now the light bulb has come on. He’s such an important piece for us on both ends of the floor.

“But when he’s scoring, we want to just get the ball to him and get out of the way.”

The Hens will get their chance to set the school record for the best start to a season when they host Columbia on Monday at 7 p.m.

The UD team whose record this year’s squad is trying to break finished 25-6 and went to the NCAA Tournament. Led by players like Mike Pegues and John Gordon, Ingelsby heard a lot about that squad when he was coaching with Brey at Notre Dame.

“It’d be a heck of a feather in our cap,” Ingelsby said about trying to break the record. “Like Justyn said, I think we’re thinking bigger than that.

“They were a special group,” he said about the ‘98-99 team. “He (Brey) talked glowingly about his experience here for five years. … To kind of bring back those memories is great for our fans and alumni.

“My hope is we continue to take care of business and this place and community can rally like they rallied around that team.”

Free throws

Delaware finished 22-of-25 from the foul line. Allen was 9-of-10. … The Hens started the day as one of 27 undefeated teams in the country and one of only 11 with at least seven wins. … Delaware is 2-0 all-time vs. UMES, which doesn’t face MEAC rival Delaware State until Feb. 3. … After Monday, Delaware doesn’t play again in the Carpenter Center until Dec. 28. The Hens do face Delaware Delaware State on Dec. 16 in the 76ers Field House in Wilmington.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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