Delaware Shakes Off Towson, Advances to CAA Quarterfinals with 72-65 First Round Victory
March 2, 2012
• CAA Tournament Central
• Delaware Basketball March Madness
Photo Courtesy of Scott K. Brown
RICHMOND, Va. -- University of Delaware men's basketball Monté Ross knew - even with his Blue Hen team on a sizzling win streak and facing last place Towson - that Friday's opening round matchup at the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament was not going to be easy.
And he was right.
Despite jumping out to an 18-point first half lead and holding a nine-point halftime advantage, the No. 5 seed Blue Hens (18-12) needed some big defensive stops and some key shots from Devon Saddler (at right) down the stretch to survive with a 72-65 victory over the determined 12th-seeded Tigers at the Richmond Coliseum.
The win, Delaware's ninth straight, set up a CAA Tournament quarterfinal meeting with No. 4 seed Old Dominion Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised live on the Comcast Network.
"I'm very proud of our guys," said Ross, whose team will look to avenge a 59-50 CAA quarterfinal loss to the Monarchs last season. "We were able to get a big lead early and were able to hold on. Our guys are conditioned that every game in the CAA is going to come down to one or two possessions. But our guys don't panic. It's nerve-wrecking for the coaches, but our players seem to take it in stride."
Saddler, a sophomore guard and a second team All-CAA selection, finished with a game-high 28 points, none bigger than his consecutive three-pointers over a span of 1:16 that helped Delaware break away from the only tie of the second half at 53-53 with 7:30 remaining.
He sank the second three-pointer with 6:02 left to play, just beating the shot clock and pushing Delaware's lead to four points. Towson never got closer than two points the rest of the way as Delaware sank 10 free throws over the final five minutes of action.
“We were facing some adversity,” said Saddler, who posted his 14th 20-point game of the season by connecting on 7 of 19 shots from the field, 4 of 9 three-pointers, and 10 of 12 free throws. “Towson was putting together a run and I knew I had to step up and give our team some confidence. I’m just happy it went in.”
With the Hens short-handed up front when backups Hakim McCullar (concussion symptoms) and Kelvin McNeil (knee) both left the game for good in the first half, Delaware junior Josh Brinkley stepped up. He finished the night with 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting and pulled five rebounds. Junior Jamelle Hagins, Delaware’s second team All-CAA performer who spent much of the day in foul trouble, contributed nine points, seven rebounds, and four blocked shots while freshman Jarvis Threatt had another effective game off the bench with 15 points on 9 of 11 free throw shooting.
Delaware held a 27-16 advantage at the foul line and committed just six turnovers to offset 38.5 percent shooting from the field (20 of 52) and a 18-rebound deficit to the Tigers.
Towson (1-31), which finished the worst season in school history with nine straight losses, got a record-setting performance from senior forward Robert Nwankwo, who became the first player in CAA Tournament history to record a 20-20 game as he scored 27 points and pulled down 20 rebounds. Guard Kris Walden added 13 points for the Tigers.
Delaware defeated Towson for the fifth straight time and for the third team this season. But none of them were easy as the Hens won 62-43 on Jan. 23 in Newark and 76-69 on Feb. 22 at Towson.
The Blue Hens’ nine-game win streak is the program’s longest since the 1998-99 squad won 13 straight under head coach Mike Brey on the way to an NCAA Tournament appearance. Delaware hasn’t lost since a 71-55 setback to CAA regular season champion Drexel back on Jan. 28 in Philadelphia.
Delaware improved to 7-4 all-time in CAA Tournament first games and won for the second straight year after downing Northeastern 60-58 last season. The Hens move on to the quarterfinals for the eighth time since joining the CAA in 2001-02 and with a win over Old Dominion will advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2002-03.
“Defensively, we really locked them down tonight when we had to,” said Ross. “Our guys made some big plays, especially Devon. He is the type of player who has made big shots all season. Josh really stepped up as well and (freshman guard) Larry Savage gave us some big minutes with Hakim and Kelvin down. We needed him to play big and he did. He gave us a big lift.”
The Blue Hens cruised early on, using an 8-0 run to take a 23-9 lead with 8:42 left on a Saddler three-pointer and pushing the advantage to 18 points on a McNeil free throw with 6:34 remaining. But Towson battled back and narrowed the deficit to 36-25 at the break thanks to a 7-2 run over the final three minutes of the stanza.
Towson used an 11-3 run early in the second half, cutting the Delaware lead to 46-43 on a Walden layup with 13:30 remaining. Another 6-1 run pulled the Tigers to within a single point at 52-51 with 8:55 left and Towson knotted the score at 53-53 on a Deon Jones jumper with 7:30 remaining.
But Saddler came to the rescue for the Hens as he answered with his consecutive three-pointers and later added two free throws to push the UD lead back to 62-57 with 4:09 remaining. A Brinkley dunk off a nice feed from Kyle Anderson and two free throws from Khalid Lewis gave Delaware a 66-59 lead with 2:24 remaining and Towson could never get closer than five the rest of the way.
The Hens came up with several big defensive efforts in the closing minutes, including a big block from CAA leader Hagins with 35 seconds left and Delaware clinging to the five-point lead.Back To Men's Basketball Home Men's Basketball Story Archive