Hens fall to Pride in CAA men’s basketball semifinals

Delaware’s Kevin Anderson drives to the basket in Monday night’s loss to Hofstra in the CAA semifinals. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

WASHINGTON — There was something of a helpless feeling for Delaware’s players when Hofstra came out shooting the way it did on Monday night.

For the first five minutes, the Pride was perfect.

Top-seeded Hofstra sank its first four three-pointers along with five free throws and just seemed to be in control almost all night before finally downing the No. 5 Blue Hens, 75-61, in the CAA men’s basketball tournament semifinals.

Delaware (22-11) did briefly rally to take the lead. Mostly, though, the Pride (25-8) kept the Hens at arm’s length as it reached the CAA title for the second straight season.

The Pride sank nine of their first 12 three-pointers as it ousted Delaware in the semis for the second-straight year. Hofstra never led by fewer than eight points after going up 30-22 with 6:52 left in the first half.

The Hens’ Justyn Mutts puts up a shot against the Pride on Monday night. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

“Early on, in the first half, they were hitting shots,” said UD junior forward Justyn Mutts. “It felt like everything they were putting up was going down.”

“They got very confident on the offensive end,” Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby said about Hofstra. “I think any time we had a breakdown, they really made us pay.”

The Hens simply didn’t have the offensive answers to stay with Hofstra, either. Delaware made just 5-of-23 three-pointers in the contest as none of the Hens finished with more than 13 points.

Delaware couldn’t even help itself from the foul line where it shot just 6-for-12.

“Sometimes the shots don’t fall,” said junior guard Nate Darling, who was only 3-of-11 from the three-point line and finished with 13 points.

“Their matchup zone is very difficult to play against. It’s hard to get some good clean looks out of it. I felt sometimes I rushed a couple of my shots that I could have taken my time on a little bit more. But credit to them.”

“I thought we were playing a little fast,” said Ingelsby. “We couldn’t get into any rhythm in the first half.”

Delaware led only once in the contest. The Hens rallied from a 14-4 deficit to start the game to go up 19-17 on a three-point play from Mutts midway through the first half.

But Desure Buie buried a three-pointer on Hofstra’s next possession and the Pride never trailed again.

Hofstra was up 40-28 at halftime before taking as much as a 22-point advantage with 8:50 remaining.

The Hens kept battling, however.

They ran off 11 straight points to close within 63-52 with 5:43 still left. Delaware then cut Hofstra’s lead to just 68-60 with 1:20 remaining.

But the Hens could never come up with the big plays to really put some pressure on the Pride.

Darling was called for an offensive goaltending that nullified his own dunk. The basket would have gotten Delaware within 63-54 with 5:05 left.

“I’m proud of our group,” said Ingelsby. “I thought we battled in the second half.”

“They were going on all their runs and we never fell apart,” said Mutts. “There was never a time when we started doing our own thing. We did a good job of staying together today.”

Delaware actually made 25 field goals to 20 for Hofstra. The Pride, though, out-scored the Hens by seven points from three-point range and by 17 points from the foul line.

Hofstra was 23-of-29 on free throws as Delaware fouled intentionally in the closing minutes.

While Monday’s loss ended Delaware’s NCAA Tournament dreams, it might not have been the Hens’ last game of the season. Ingelsby said Delaware has already received invitations to the CBI and CIT tournaments but hadn’t decided whether to play in one, yet.

Either way, considering all five starters are slated to return next season, the Hens leave the CAA tourney with big expectations. Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich already declared that Delaware will be next season’s preseason favorite in the CAA.

“I think this group moved our program forward, there’s no doubt about it,” said Ingelsby. “This group has worked extremely hard to put this program in the position it is right now. We’re disappointed about the outcome but couldn’t be more excited about the future heading into next year.”

Free throws

Eli Pemberton netted a game-high 24 points for Hofstra after sinking 5-of-8 threes. He was one of four Pride players in double figures … Mutts (13 points), Ryan Allen (11) and Kevin Anderson (11) also scored in double figures for the Hens. .,. Reserve forwards Ryan Goss and Jacob Cushing are UD’s only seniors.