Hens make comeback history in CAA tourney win

Freshman guard Ithiel Horton helped spark the Hens’ comeback with a game-high 26 points. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — For the better part of the game, it looked like there was no way Delaware was going to pull out a victory.

And the Blue Hens decided to win any way.

Pulling off one of its more memorable comebacks in recent memory, fifth-seeded Delaware shook off a 16-point deficit to stun No. 4 William & Mary, 85-79, in the Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon.

After trailing by 14 at intermission, it was the largest comeback from a halftime deficit in CAA tourney history.

The Hens (17-5) will be right back on the North Charleston Coliseum court today to face top-seeded Hofstra (26-6) at 6 p.m. CBS Sports Network is televising the contest.

But Delaware’s players will gladly take that unenviable challenge after what they pulled off on Sunday.

“It’s amazing, I really have no words for it,” freshman guard Ithiel Horton said shortly after the game ended. “No words.”

“We’ve got a fearless group, they really believe,” said coach Martin Ingelsby. “They got confident. … It was a huge, huge effort for us. I’m really proud of our group.”

Delaware senior guard Darian Bryant, who sank a big three-pointer with 17 seconds left, celebrates the Blue Hens’ comeback win over William & Mary. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

The Hens’ only first-half lead came in the opening minutes, they trailed 45-31 at halftime and they were still behind 64-52 with 10:20 left in the contest.

But Horton (26 points) and sophomore Ryan Allen (23) both caught fire in the second half. When Allen — who netted 21 second-half points — buried back-to-back threes, Delaware suddenly held a 68-65 advantage with 6:54 on the clock.

That advantage grew to as much as 79-71 with 3:05 remaining.

Down the stretch, the Tribe closed within two points at 81-79 with 43 seconds still left. Senior Darian Bryant, however, swished a wide-open three-pointer from the right wing with just 17 seconds left to seal the win.

“What a shot by Darian Bryant on that last possession,” said Ingelsby. “Boy, has that kid made some clutch shots in the last couple years for us.”

In the second half alone, Delaware was 10-of-15 from three-point range (14-of-24 for the game). Horton, Ryan and sophomore guard Kevin Anderson (15 points) were a combined 13-of-21 from beyond the arc.

Senior Eric Carter huddles with teammates Ryan Allen (left) and Kevin Anderson (right) and Darian Bryant late in Sunday’s game. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

The Hens also got an unexpected boost from backup center Collin Goss. The 6-foot-11 junior entered the game with 13:09 after starter Eric Carter (13 points, 10 rebounds)picked up his fourth foul.

Goss’ defense helped limit Tribe big man Nathan Knight (21 points) to just five free throws the rest of the contest.

“I just tried to stay tall,” said Goss. “Being 6-11, height will help if you just stay tall — take that first bump, don’t go down and stay strong. It worked out today.”

Delaware out-scored William & Mary, 54-34, in the second half after switching up its defense. After shooting a blistering 69.2 percent (18-of-26) in the first half, the Tribe shot just 30.8 percent (8-for-26) after intermission.

“I thought we really guarded them in the second half and took them out of their rhythm,” said Ingelsby.

Making the Hens’ comeback more unexpected was the fact that they had lost four games in a row coming into the tourney. William & Mary, on the other hand, had won five in a row.

Today’s game will mark the first time Delaware has been in the CAA semifinals since it was the conference title in 2014.

The Hens lost to Hofstra twice during the regular season by a total of 67 points. That includes a 92-70 setback to the Pride on March 2 in Newark.

“We’ve got to get some rest,” said Ingelsby. “We’ve got a heck of a challenge tomorrow night.”

Free throws

Delaware will be making its fifth CAA semifinal appearance. … The Hens have won a game in the CAA Tournament for the third straight year. … Delaware improved to 5-9 in CAA quarterfinal game. … UD’s 14 three-pointers are one shy of its season-high. … Carter’s double-double was his 13th of the season.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

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