Up by 15, Hens barely hang on to edge CAA foe Dragons 76-75

Delaware’s Ryan Allen went 4-for-6 from three-point range and finished with a game-high 26 points. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — They almost did it again.

Almost.

The last time Delaware played Drexel, the Blue Hens blew a 34-point lead.

And the last time the Hens played anybody, they squandered an 18-point advantage against Towson last weekend.

On Saturday afternoon against Drexel, a 15-point cushion almost wasn’t big enough for Delaware.

This time, however, the Hens survived a frantic final minute to squeak out a 76-75 victory over the Dragons in CAA men’s basketball played before a Carpenter Center crowd of 3,045.

Drexel (4-5 CAA, 10-12 overall) finished the rivalry game on a 17-5 run. But the Dragons only closed within one on a Trevor John three-pointer with just 3.4 seconds left.

Delaware’s Ithiel Horton was fouled with 2.7 seconds on the clock. The freshman, though, missed the front end of the resulting one-and-one free-throw situation.

Drexel’s Alihan Demir grabbed the rebound and dribbled out but was called for traveling before he attempted a halfcourt heave.

“I’m just hoping that we can hang on,” Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby said when asked what was going through his head. “I’m trying to calm us down and be positive with them as you feel a little bit of that game pressure coming on. We’ve just got to be better handling the basketball.

The Hens’ Ithiel Horton, who netted 19 points, goes up for a dunk against the Dragons. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“We’ve got young guards that maybe haven’t experienced that type of pressure. We’re got to keep putting their feet to the fire and taking care of the ball. We’ve just got to be better.”

The Hens (6-3 CAA, 14-8 overall) committed 21 turnovers — two off their season-high. Eight of them came in the final four minutes when Delaware almost wasted a 71-58 advantage.

Four different Delaware players had four to six turnovers in the contest.

“They were playing tough defense but we were just being real passive,” said sophomore guard Kevin Anderson, who had 16 points but five turnovers. “We were playing not to lose. We weren’t playing to win any more. Our intensity went down and we weren’t as focused as were in the first 36 minutes.”

Anderson scored what may have been Delaware’s biggest points of the afternoon when he sank two foul shots with 11.4 seconds remaining. That gave the Hens a 76-72 lead.

Before the game, Anderson said Delaware’s players noticed a big sign that Drexel students were holding up at the top of the stands. “We had 34 problems but your lead wasn’t one,” the banner read.

It was a reference to the NCAA-record 34-point lead that Delaware wasted against the Dragons last February.

“That just set a fire under us,” said Anderson. “We just knew we had to win.”

The Hens’ Eric Carter goes up for a shot in Delaware’s win over Drexel on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

For much of the day, the Hens looked like the second-place squad in the CAA. They netted the first eight points of the game and eventually stretched their advantage to 35-20 late in the first half.

Delaware was still up 44-33 when Horton (19 points) buried a three-pointer just before halftime. In the second half, Drexel never got closer than eight points until the final eight minutes.

One of the bright spots for Delaware on Saturday was the 26-point effort from Ryan Allen.

It was Allen who missed a pair of foul shots with 1.1 seconds left in the Hens’ one-point loss to Towson last week. But the sophomore guard came right back against Drexel by sinking 10-of-16 shots from the floor, including 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range, while making both his foul shots.

“I was ready to put that game behind me,” said Allen. “Going through the week, it was kind of hard. It was good for me to have a game like I had today.

“My high school coach reached out to me, my family and friends reached out to me, everyone on the coaching staff reached out to me — fans even reached out to me and just told me to keep my head up. You know, ‘We believe in you, just go out there and play your next game. Don’t hold on to this.’”

Indeed, Saturday’s last-minute meltdown not withstanding, the Hens are well ahead of where they were last year at this point. With nine regular-season games remaining, Delaware has matched its victory totals for both overall and CAA wins from last season.
The Hens also remain tied with preseason favorite Northeastern for second place in the league standings.

“We feel like we’re in a good place,” said Allen. “But we know that we can’t settle. There’s teams that are right behind us. One loss changes the whole standings.

“We’ve got to continue to stay focused and put two halves together.”

Free throws

Ironically, the Hens’ 21-turnover game comes after it turned the ball over just twice against Towson. That was Delaware’s lowest total since at least the 1983-84 season. … Delaware is 82-77 all-time vs. Drexel. … Senior Eric Carter had a game-high 13 rebounds and hit all three of his field-goal attempts but he finished with just six points. It was only the second time this season that he failed to score in double figures. … Delaware plays its next two games on the road, starting with a Thursday night date at Elon.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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