Tourney leaves Hens excited about their future

Coach Martin Ingelsby will lose only three seniors from this year’s Delaware men’s basketball team. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Hofstra’s 91-46 destruction of Delaware on Dec. 28 was about as bad as that score makes it sound.

“We could do nothing wrong,” said Pride coach Joe Mihalich. “I think if we would have kicked it, it would have gone in. And they couldn’t do anything right. It had to be a really tough loss for them.”

But what the Blue Hens did next is what really caught Mihalich’s attention.

Playing another tough road game at Northeastern two days later, Delaware found a way to pull out an 82-80 overtime win over the Huskies, who ended up as the second-best men’s basketball team in the CAA this year. Mihalich called Blue Hen coach Martin Ingelsby on the busride home.

“I said, ‘I don’t know what you did, but for you to get your team together …,’” said Mihalich. “ ‘I don’t know what you do, but keep doing it.’ ”

Mihalich told that story on Monday night after his heavily-favored Hofstra squad escaped with a 78-74, overtime victory over Delaware in the CAA semifinals in the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum.

One night after rallying from a 14-point halftime deficit to shock No. 4 William & Mary, the fifth-seeded Hens came from a 13-point halftime deficit to almost stun the Pride.

All told, the Hens out-scored the two higher-seeded squads by a combined 96-63 in the second halves of those two games.

Sophomore guard Ryan Allen was the Blue Hens’ leading scorer this season at 16 points per game.

“Everybody thought Delaware was down and out,” Mihalich said about the William & Mary game. “But he (Ingelsby) wouldn’t let it happen. He kept his team together. It was a great win. And he almost did it again tonight.”

Considering how lackluster the UD program has been lately, it was probably the most exciting finish to a Blue Hen men’s basketball season since the Hens won the CAA title and went to the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

But the fact that Delaware’s comebacks were largely fueled by underclassmen is what makes things really interesting for the program.

The Hens lose only three seniors from a squad that finished 17-16 — their first winning season since ‘14 — while adding three transfers who have been practicing with the team for most of the year.

Ingelsby would like to think Delaware learned some things about its offense in the CAA tourney. The 85-point outburst against William Mary was the Hens’ highest total since Dec. 9.

“We have young guards that are really scoring the basketball for us,” said Ingelsby. “And when you have more guys out there who can make shots, you can put 42, 45 or 54 points up in a half.

“Sometimes as a coach, you don’t want to over-coach it. Let’s just do what we do every day, how we practice and how we share the basketball. … I’m really proud of our young guys and the future of our program. With those three young guys and what we’re adding with Nate Darling and Justyn Mutts, I feel like we have a chance to really make a big jump next year.”

Ithiel Horton sank a team-best 79 three-pointers as a freshman for the Blue Hens this winter.

The ‘three young guys’ are sophomore guards Ryan Allen (16.0 points per game) and Kevin Anderson (10.7 ppg, 109 assists) along with freshman Ithiel Horton (13.2).

While all three had their ups and downs this winter, at their best, all three showed they can be explosive scorers. The season-high games for each — Horton (31 points), Allen (30) and Anderson (25) — show their potential.

As for the transfers, Darling is a 6-foot-5 guard from UAB who shot a team-high 40.9 percent on three-pointers for the Blazers and averaged 10.1 ppg. The Nova Scotia native once scored 50 points in a Canadian National Basketball Championship U-17 game.

Mutts is a 6-foot-7, 220-pound small forward who transferred from High Point after making the Big South all-freshman squad.

Of course, Delaware also picked up 6-foot-9, 245-pound Dylan Painter, who was a member of Villanova’s national championship team.
Painter, who won’t be eligible until the end of UD’s fall semester, will step into the shoes of second-team all-CAA center Eric Carter (15.8 ppg, 9.7 rebounds), who is the Hens’ biggest loss to graduation.

Added to the list of returning players are freshman Matt Veretto, who had six double-digit games, including a 20-point effort against Columbia, and 6-foot-11 Collin Goss, who seemed to have found more of a role with the team down the stretch.

Of course, in the sports world, words like ‘potential’ and ‘if’ can be followed quickly by words like ‘disappointment.’

The Hens aren’t interested in being just an up-and-coming team any more. If they could play like they did in the second half of their last two games, they wouldn’t be.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the direction of our program,” Ingelsby said after Monday’s loss. “We’re going to remember this feeling and hopefully use it as motivation as we head to the off-season. … We’ve got to get back to work. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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