Look how far they have come — from perennial cellar dwellers in the CAA to 40 minutes shy of a trip to Madison Square Garden and a national television appearance in the Preseason NIT semifinals. The University of Delaware men’s basketball program earned its first win of the young season on Monday with an 84-69 rout of Penn in the opening round of the NIT.
The game was not played in the friendly confines of the Carpenter Center, nor was it contested at the historic Palestra. No, Monday’s contest between schools located less than 40 miles apart was played 200 miles to the south on the campus of the University of Virginia. Thanks to the victory, Delaware now gets a chance at the struggling Cavaliers, with the winner headed to the Big Apple.
The Hens avenged an opening day loss at LaSalle by pulling away from another Big Five opponent early in the second half. Delaware, who took an eight-point lead to intermission, extended its advantage to 24 with just over 13 minutes remaining.
Monte Ross’s team had to overcome first-half foul trouble for the second consecutive contest. After Devon Saddler committed three fouls in the initial 20 minutes against LaSalle, senior Jamelle Hagins spent the final 14 minutes of the first half on Monday next to his coach on the bench with two fouls.
Unlike in the loss to the Explorers, UD was able to overcome the foul trouble. Saddler had a monster night, with 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. Josh Brinkley also turned in a pivotal performance with 15 points and nine boards. Five of the senior’s rebounds came on the offensive end.
But the best sign for Delaware was the production it received from its bench. The Hens’ reserves combined to account for 25 points and 15 rebounds. Terrell Rogers paced the second unit with 14 points on five-of-eight shooting in just his second career collegiate game.
Considering depth was Delaware's greatest cause of consternation coming into the season, that kind of output from his backups has to have Ross grinning from ear to ear.
Those second stringers will have to produce again tonight if Delaware wants to march on to New York. After wrapping up the win over Penn at just after 11:30 on Monday night, the Hens will have to turn around and take on an ACC program in their arena less than 20 hours later.
But Brinkley says the short turnaround won’t bother him or his teammates.
“It’s like playing AAU, which is something we have all done before,” the senior said minutes after Monday’s win. “It won’t bother us at all I don’t think.”
Hopefully not, because while the stakes are high, the challenge is far from daunting. Virginia has looked eminently beatable in its first two games. The Cavaliers lost to a team Delaware was picked ahead of in the preseason CAA rankings (George Mason) and were stuck in a two-point battle with Fairfield before finally pulling away in the closing minutes.
Delaware can win tonight, and if they do, it’s off to the place everyone in the sport dreams to go to.
“Tomorrow night’s game is an opportunity to get to New York,” Ross said. “Anybody who plays basketball wants to get to the Mecca, and the Mecca is Madison Square Garden. This is a great chance for us.”