Sellout crowd watches No. 9 Irish defeat Hens 92-68 in Brey’s return

Delaware freshman Kevin Anderson, who netted a season-high 23 points, drives to the basket against Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Delaware didn’t exactly have Notre Dame on the ropes.

But, 12 minutes into Saturday night’s game, the underdog Blue Hens were still leading the mighty Fighting Irish by two points.

Visions of being on the wrong end of a near-impossible upset danced in Mike Brey’s head.

“I thought this was the worst idea I’ve ever come up with,” the former Delaware coach said about scheduling his old team. “I said, ‘They set me up.’ They bring me back and they set me up,”

Of course, holding some early leads and actually winning are two very different things.

Eventually, ninth-ranked Notre Dame asserted itself, putting away the Hens, 92-68, before a sellout crowd of 4,737 at the Carpenter Center on Saturday night.

The Irish (8-2) used a run late in the first half to take a 38-27 advantage into intermission before keeping Delaware (4-6) at a safe distance the rest of the way.

Four Notre Dame players scored in double figures, led by guards Matt Farrell (24) and T.J. Gibbs (21). The two were a combined 9-for-14 from three-range for the Irish, who went 13-for-23 from beyond the arc as a team.

But Delaware, which had only seven scholarship players available, held its own for various stretches. The contest featured six ties and seven lead changes in the early going.

The Hens went up 14-11 when freshman guard Kevin Anderson buried a three. He finished with a aseason-high 23 points.

And Delaware went back up 19-17 when Anderson scored on a drive with 8:18 left in the first half.

Notre Dame was the highest-ranked college basketball team to play in the Carpenter Center and only the fourth Top 10 squad that the Hens have ever hosted in Newark.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been so proud of a team losing by 24 points,” said second-year Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby, who spent 13 seasons as Brey’s assistant at ND. “I think our team really believed, we competed and we went for it. I love our group.

The Hens’ Ryan Daly looks to get around Rex Pflueger of the Fighting Irish on Saturday night. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

“I think we’re getting better. We maybe don’t have the results we would like. But we’re going to get over the hump. We’ve got a young, talented freshman class that really believes. They’re fearless. We went toe-to-toe with them (the Irish) for about 16 minutes in the first half.

“Then the last four minutes (of the first half), it kind of got away from us. It went from maybe a two-possession game to 11 or 12. That’s too big of a hole for us to dig out of.”

Besides Anderson, freshman Ryan Allen netted 14 points and sophomore Ryan Daly had 15. Anderson, Allen and Daly combined to shoot 9-for-20 from three-point range.

The Hens were missing three players: Jacob Cushing (broken nose), Darien Bryant (concussion) and Derrick Woods (suspension). That left Daly and Anderson playing the full 40 minutes while freshman Chyree Walker (8 points) was on the court for 37.

Even with that in mind, Notre Dame never led by more than 26 points — and that came with just 41 seconds remaining.

“We didn’t have a ton of bodies and you’re playing some youth a ton of minutes,” said Ingelsby. “But, again, I love our fearlessness and our resliency to keep battling back.”

“Any time you go into a game, you think you’re going to win,” said Daly. “We were going back and forth for the first 15 or 16 minutes. Then we kind of went a dry spell and they hit some threes. They’re a great basketball team.

“We’re a real young team so we’re learning every step of the way. It’s really exciting. I think within the next week or two we’re going to break through and it’s going to be scary, hopefully.”

Saturday’s game was a pretty unique opportunity, of course.

Not only was Notre Dame one of the best men’s college basketball teams to play in Newark but the game marked Brey’s first game in the Carpenter Center since 2000. He spent six seasons coaching Delaware, earning a spot in UD’s Athletics Hall of Fame and a legion of fans who still follow him after 17 seasons with Notre Dame.

For Ingelsby and Brey, the situation was compounded by their longtime friendship.

“Once the game tips up, you kind of forget who you’re playing against,” said Ingebsy. “You’re competitors and you’re trying to put your team in the best position to win.

“There were quite a bit of distractions the last couple days with this game and Mike and seeing him yesterday (on Friday). He’s the self-proclaimed loosest coach in America (but) he was not very loose yesterday.”

“I’m not sure if I ever want to do this again,” said Brey. “That was kind of different emotionally. Coming back here, playing against a guy you love. But it was really neat to be back. I saw a lot of familiar faces.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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