Hens top Charleston 79-67, return to CAA semifinals

Nate Darling finished with a team-high 25 points for the Hens against Charleston on Sunday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It wasn’t like this was ancient history.

Just 10 days ago the Delaware men’s basketball team held a 10-point lead with seven minutes left at Charleston — and lost by nine.

So when the Cougars made a quick five-point spurt to slice the Blue Hens’ 11-point advantage to just six with 6:03 still remaining on Sunday, sure, Delaware’s players felt a sense of deja vu.

“I kept telling our fellas in the huddles, ‘We’ve been here twice before, let’s not do this again,’” said junior guard Nate Darling. “We know how to win it this time.”

They did.

The fifth-seeded Hens dominated the final six minutes this time, finishing off No. 4 Charleston, 79-67, in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon.

Delaware (22-10) snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Cougars (17-4), beating them for the first time since 2016, to earn a second-straight trip to the CAA semifinals.

Of course, today’s matchup may be even more difficult. The Hens square off with top-seeded Hofstra (24-8) at 6 p.m. at the Entertainment & Sports Arena for the right to play in Tuesday’s title game.

On Sunday, at least, Delaware was pretty impressive when it needed to be,

After Charleston closed to within 62-56, the Hens answered with a 13-4 run to retake control. Junior Dylan Painter tallied seven of his 14 points in that run.

The 6-foot-10 center capped off his spree with a big dunk off a fastbreak with 2:04 on the clock.

Darling, who finished with a team-high 25 points, added five as Delaware’s lead hit its biggest of the game at 75-60 with 1:15 remaining.

Probably just as importantly, the Hens never let the Cougars get hot — like they did in the last meeting. Charleston sank just three of eight shots with a pair of turnovers in the closing minutes as it never really threatened.

“It’s happened to us one too many times,” sophomore forward Justyn Mutts said about UD’s late-game struggles against the Cougars. “We know what to do when things get like that. We’ve just got to stay together and not let things break us apart.”

The Hens’ Dylan Painter, who scored 14 points, goes up for a dunk late in Sunday’s contest.

“We really challenged our guys that we needed to guard for 40 minutes,” said coach Martin Ingelsby. “We’ve been in two really good basketball games against them and let it slip away in the end. We really connected on that end.”

Offensively, the Hens shot a sizzling 61.5 percent (16-of-26) in the second half, sinking four of six three-pointers and 11-of-13 free throws. Every time Delaware needed a big shot it seemed to find one.

Freshman Johnny McCoy, Darling and Kevin Anderson each hit a three-pointer in one three-minute stretch midway through the second half. It kept the Hens’ lead at 58-47 with 8:41 remaining.

“We got into a good flow offensively,” said Ingelsby. “We’ve got some weapons. We’ve got great balance. Guys made big shots.”

“We were more locked in this game than we’ve been in a while,” said Mutts. “We didn’t come down here just to get one win. We came down here to get three.”

Besides Darling and Painter, Mutts (11 rebounds, five assists, three steals) and Ryan Allen both added 12 points.

Darling hit 5-of-8 three-pointers and was 9-of-17 from the floor. The first-team all-CAA guard finished with only 18 points and made just 2-of-8 threes in the last meeting with Charleston.

Darling had 15 first-half points in the first half when the Hens shook off an 8-0 deficit to lead 32-27 at intermission.

Delaware’s Kevin Anderson tries to get off a shot against Charleston’s Osinachi Smart in Sunday’s CAA quarterfinals.

“Nothing’s changed for me,” said Darling. “I just keep getting in the gym and just keep shooting. They fell for me today.”

In some ways, on paper, Hofstra isn’t as big a challenge for Delaware as Charleston was. The Hens beat the Pride on its home court in December and took Hofstra to overtime in last year’s CAA semifinals.

But the Pride also dominated the last 10 minutes in a 78-62 victory over Delaware on Feb. 27.

Of course, history can be whatever you want to make of it sometimes. Mutts, who’s only been in the program for two years, wasn’t even aware the Hens’ had a nine-game losing streak against Charleston until after the contest.

“I didn’t know that,” said Mutts. “Now was the perfect time to get that ‘W.’

“We don’t worry too much about the history,” he added. “All we know is that we’re making history right now.”

Free throws

Today’s game is being shown on CBS Sports Network. … Charleston senior guard Grant Riller, the third-leading scorer in CAA history, tallied a game-high 26 points on Sunday. But he was only 10-of-22 from the floor.. … The Cougars were the only team that Ingelsby hadn’t beaten in his four years at UD. … Delaware’s McCoy is 9-of-18 on three-pointers this season. …. Mutts’ double-double was his 11th of the season.