Painter’s big day leads UD men over Drexel

Justyn Mutts (left) celebrates with Dylan Painter after a Painter basket against Drexel. Delaware Sports Information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Dylan Painter had never hit a three-pointer in college.

So you better believe that when Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby gave him the green light to try one, the Blue Hens’ 6-foot-10 center was going to let one fly.

Sure enough, Painter buried a three in the first half of Delaware’s game with Drexel on Saturday.

“He told me he was going to shoot one today,” junior guard Nate Darling said with a smile. “When he hit it, I was on the bench. He looked at me. It was fun.”

But that’s just the way things are going for the Hens right now. They dispatched CAA rival Drexel, 80-72, on Saturday at the Carpenter Center to make it four wins in a row.

As opposed to its six-point loss to the Dragons a month ago, Delaware (6-4 CAA, 16-7 overall) looked pretty relaxed and confident as it led for the final 36 minutes of the contest.

It certainly wasn’t a blowout. But, considering the Hens’ last three victories have come by a total of just five points, this was as comfortable a win as Delaware has enjoyed in over a month.

“Obviously winning helps your confidence,” said Darling, who finished with a game-high 27 points. “And we’ve got a really confident group right now.

“Guys are just going to work. We’re moving the ball, we’re hitting shots and we’re having fun out there. We’re all yelling and screaming. We’re having fun playing basketball together. When you’re doing that, that’s when you’re winning games.”

Delaware had three players score 20 points or more. That included Darling plus Painter and guard Kevin Anderson, who netted 20 points apiece.

Painter had something of a perfect offensive night, going 7-for-7 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the foul line while also grabbing 10 rebounds.

Several times, the Villanova transfer was able to score in the low post with his back to the basket, something he’s done with only limited success since becoming eligible in late December. It was the seventh time in his 12 games that Painter has scored in double figures.

“It’s so easy with all these great guards,” said Painter. “I just get a lot of dump downs but I feel like, when they take away that, I can make my own shot, too.”

“We want to go inside — whether it’s him or Collin (Goss) or Justyn Mutts,” said Ingelsby. “I just think he’s coming along and getting comfortable with the college game and how he can impact us on both ends of the floor. When you have that balanced scoring of inside out, it’s a difficult group to defend.”

After the Hens led by as many as 16 points, Drexel (5-5 CAA, 12-11 overall) did get Delaware’s advantage down to as little as six points in the closing two minutes. The Hens, however, sank eight straight free throws in one late stretch to keep the Dragons at arm’s length.

For the game, Delaware was 15-of-20 from the foul line.

Saturday’s contest was the first of three straight home games for the Hens as they look to keep climbing out of the middle of the Colonial Athletic Association standings. For the moment, Delaware wants to just keep doing what it’s doing.

“Guys are starting to take ownership of themselves and this team,” said Ingelsby. “The more times when I get to the huddle, those guys are talking to each other. I don’t want to over-coach it.

“Four in a row in this league. … it’s a heck of a job to get it done. It’s a work in progress but I like where we are.” 

Free throws

Delaware limited Drexel to just 5-of-18 three-point shooting. … The Hens and Dragons have split their season series for the seventh straight year. … Delaware has won its last five home games with Drexel. . … Camren Wynter had 22 points with James Butler adding 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Dragons. … Delaware is at home again on Thursday when it hosts Towson at 6 p.m.