GOIN' DANCING! Delaware Rallies Past William & Mary 75-74 to Win CAA Title, Advance to NCAA Tournament
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Hens are headed back to the Big Dance!
Delaware earned a return trip to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament for the first time since 1999 after the Blue Hens rallied past William & Mary for a heart-stopping 75-74 victory in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament title game Monday night at the Baltimore Arena.
Carl Baptiste was nearly unstoppable inside, scoring a career-high 24 points, including the winning bucket with 13 seconds left, to lift the No. 1 seed Blue Hens (25-9) to their fifth straight victory and first ever CAA Tournament crown since joining the league in 2001-02.
The Blue Hens will find out where they are headed - and who they will play - this Sunday, March 16, when the NCAA 68-team field is announced.
“I can’t say enough about this group, and the way they just stick with it," said Delaware head coach Monté Ross, the CAA Coach of the Year who had led the Blue Hens to their first CAA Tournament title game appearance since he took over the helm in 2006-07. "To be down six late and just keep playing, I couldn’t be prouder of their resiliency. I love these guys, they are tremendous. To cap it off like this is really special."
The Blue Hens needed a huge stop in the final seconds to complete the late comeback, and they got it. William & Mary guard Marcus Thornton, who finished with 22 points, had the chance to win it in the waning seconds but his 20-foot jumper was off the mark and the horn sounded with the ball in the air.
The victory set off a wild celebration as a large throng of UD students and fans stormed the court to join their fellow Blue Hens.
“I wanted to get the ball to Devon (Saddler), but he said 'get it to Carl,' " said Ross of the play that resulted in the winning basket. "There were a lot of bodies inside, but he was able to power it in there.”
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Jarvis Threatt added 18 points and seven rebounds for the Hens, while Saddler contributed 16 points and five assists to lead yet another balanced effort. Kyle Anderson also finished with nine points, including two big three-pointers in the second half, and Davon Usher, who had scored 28 and 21 points in the Hens' first two tournament wins, was held to just eight points but contributed several big three-pointers down the stretch and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.
Threatt was joined on the CAA All-Tournament team by Baptiste (below left) and Saddler, as well as William & Mary's Thornton and Brandon Britt and Northeastern's Scott Eatherton.
“I wish I could give the (MVP) trophy to the whole team," expressed Threatt, a junior guard who scored 59 points, pulled 21 rebounds, and dished out 14 assists in the three tournament games. "To be named Most Outstanding Player is just a blessing, and I couldn’t be more proud of our seniors.”
Delaware led for the entire second half before the No. 3 seed Tribe used a 7-0 run to take their first lead since late in the opening half at 69-65 with 3:30 left to play when Thornton drained a three-pointer.
Usher connected on a three-pointer for Delaware with 3:24 left but Thornton answered with a jumper and Omar Prewitt drained a three-pointer from the left corner to cap a 12-5 Tribe run and push the lead to 74-68 with 1:15 remaining.
Saddler hit two free throws with 1:10 left to cut the gap to 74-70, and Prewitt misssed a free throw to give Delaware possession.
Threatt (below right) then drove down the lane and converted an acrobatic layup and was fouled with 51 seconds left. He finished off the three-point play with a free throw that pulled Delaware to within 74-73, and the Hens got possession back again after Usher rebounded a Thornton missed a jumper with 25 seconds left.
Delaware called a timeout to set up a play and it worked perfectly as Saddler found Baptiste inside and the senior laid it in for the winning basket. Baptiste finished the night hitting on 9 of 11 shots from the field and pulling eight rebounds.
“Carl had it going all game and they couldn’t stop him down low," said Saddler of the winning basket. "So I told Coach Ross to get him the ball.”
“This whole team just has so much trust in each other, and I wasn’t going to let them down," said Baptiste, whose previous scoring high was 23 against William & Mary back on Feb. 29 in Williamsburg, Va.
William & Mary (20-12), making its third CAA Tournament final appearance since 2008, also got 16 points from Tim Rusthoven and 14 points off the bench from Prewitt, the league Rookie of the Year.
The Blue Hens took all three games from the Tribe this season, including a 76-71 win on Jan. 15 at the Bob Carpenter Center and the 89-72 victory Feb. 29.
The Hens have won seven straight over the Tribe but the game marked the first time the two had met in the CAA Tournament.
Delaware, which was making its first tournament championship game appearance since falling to Hofstra in the 2001 America East title match, captured its fifth conference title in school history and will be headed to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time, joining the 1992, 1993, 1998, and 1999 squads that also advanced.
The Hens' 25 wins are now tied for the second most in school history and the highest total since the 1998-99 NCAA Tournament team won that many.
The teams began the game on a frantic pace with William & Mary scoring on six of its first eight possessions and taking a 16-9 lead in the first five minutes.
But Delaware later used a 9-0 run to take the lead at 29-24 with Baptiste scoring twice inside, Threatt driving the lane for a layup, and Anderson knocking down his first three-pointer of the night.
The Tribe answered right back as Rusthoven scored six straight points to give his team a 30-29 lead. Delaware rallied late, scoring the final six points, including a Threatt jumper just before the halftime horn to give the Hens a 39-33 advantage at the break.
Delaware came out strong in the second half by scoring 8 of the first 10 points of the stanza, and built its biggest lead at 47-35 just over three minutes in. The Hens then stayed in front until William & Mary's 6-0 flurry in the final minutes.