Blue Hens’ rally stuns Huskies as Darling delivers

BOSTON — The Blue Hens really had no reason to believe they were going to pull this one out.

With 12 minutes left in Saturday’s game with Northeastern, Delaware trailed the Huskies by 16 points on their home court.

But momentum is a funny thing.

Somehow the Hens grabbed hold of the momentum and never let go, rallying for a memorable 76-74 CAA men’s basketball victory over Northeastern at Matthews Arena.

Junior guard Nate Darling poured in 34 points — including 28 in the second half — as Delaware (5-4 CAA, 15-7 overall) won its third-straight nail-biter. Those three victories have come by a total of just five points.

Unlike the last two wins, however, this one was decided by some last-second defense, not offense.

With 16 seconds left, the defending CAA champion Huskies (5-4 CAA, 11-10 overall) trailed by only one and had possession with a chance to pull out the victory. The Hens’ Jacob Cushing, though, tied up the ball with four seconds left and had the possession arrow.

Darling was fouled and hit the two ensuing free throws with 3.8 seconds on the clock to put Delaware up 76-73. The Hens then fouled Northeastern intentionally to prevent it from taking a three-pointer.

The Huskies made the first foul shot but missed the second on purpose with 1.3 seconds left. Delaware’s Dylan Painter grabbed the rebound to seal the win.

“This group is really starting to believe in each other,” said coach Martin Ingelsby. “It’s fun to watch. At some point in the game I was like, I’m not going to over-coach this. I’m going to let these guys play and read and make good decisions.

“They’re confident, they’re talking to each other in the huddle. We said, ‘Let’s just keep chipping away at it.’”

“This is a very gutsy win,” said Darling. “I like the way this team is rolling right now. We’ve got confidence, we’ve got swagger. It’s fun to play.

“We just beat two of the better teams in our conference (Northeastern, Hofstra) on the road, which gives us a huge boost of confidence moving forward.”

Darling, who netted 37 points earlier in the season, hit 11-of-19 shots from the floor was 9-of-11 from the foul line. Ryan Allen, who also played tough defense, and Kevin Anderson (7 rebounds, 6 assists) netted 12 points each.

“I can’t say enough about Nate Darling,” said Ingelsby. “I’ve been waiting for a night like this of him just being able to score. He’s a talented offensive guy that just kind of carried us — willed us — to this win on the offensive end.

“Once I started attacking the rim, my shot started opening up a little,” said Darling. “Once you see a couple go in, just give me the ball and let’s see what we can do — and take this team for another win. It was fun.”

Delaware trailed 58-42 with 11:51 remaining and was still down 15 with 9:21 to play. But the Hens reeled off 13 straight points to pull within 63-61 on a Cushing three-pointer at the 7:13 mark.

Delaware finally drew even on two Anderson free throws with 3:55 to go, and took its first lead of the half at 74-73 when Darling hit a foul shot at the 1:27 mark.

The Hens out-scored the Huskies, 47-32, in the second half.

Ingelsby said Allen’s defense on Northeastern’s Jordan Roland was “unbelievable.” Roland is fifth nationally at 23.3 ppg.

Roland still netted 27 points but went scoreless over the final nine minutes — about the same time Allen started guarding him exclusively.

“He wanted the challenge,” Ingelsby said about Allen. “He said, ‘Coach, I got him. I got him. I don’t even want to switch.’ He wore him down the last 10 minutes of the game.’

“He thought ‘If it’s not my night offensively, what else can I do to help this team?’ And boy did he help us tonight.” 

Free throws

After going scoreless for the first time in his career on Thursday, Allen hit a pair of three-pointers with three assists on Saturday. … Darling played 39 minutes as four of Delaware’s starters played at least 34 minutes. Darling is second in Division I nationally at 38.2 minutes per game … The Hens don’t play again until Saturday when they host Drexel at 2 p.m.

Darling, who netted 37 points earlier in the season, hit 11-of-19 shots from the floor was 9-of-11 from the foul line. Ryan Allen, who also played tough defense, and Kevin Anderson netted 12 points each.