If you want to most accurately describe the University of Delaware’s 60-59 overtime-win at St. John’s on Wednesday, your best bet would be to grab a thesaurus and look up the word gritty. Every simile that pops up perfectly describes the way the UD women performed on the road against a Big East opponent, and really how the Hens have played all season long.
In many ways, Wednesday’s game was a microcosm of UD’s non-conference season. Delaware dug itself a 14-3 hole in the first six minutes against St. John’s, just like Tina Martin’s team stumbled out of the gate, losing two of its first three games. The Hens then righted the ship by running off 24 of the game’s next 31 points, similar to the way they rattled off four straight wins in late-November and early-December. Things got choppy again in the second half as the Red Storm erased a seven-point deficit and pulled in front on several occasions. Momentum seemed to be against UD like it was after eighth-ranked Maryland came to the Bob Carpenter Center and beat Delaware by 16 two weeks ago.
Just like after that tough loss though, Delaware found a way to rally. Trailing by two with 20 seconds remaining, Elena Delle Donne earned a trip to the foul line and knocked down a pair of critical foul shots to tie the game. The Hens then dodged three humongous bullets as St. John’s failed to hit game-winning shots from within 10 feet of the basket before time expired in regulation.
Delaware seemed poised to seize the game early in overtime. UD rattled off five quick points to take a 58-53 edge and seemed to have all the momentum back in its corner. Unfortunately for this group of Hens it is never quite that simple. When Jaquetta May fouled out of the contest early in OT, Delaware was forced to go to a smaller, less-quick lineup. The result was six unanswered points from St. John’s over the ensuing three minutes, as the Red Storm took a 59-58 edge with 28 seconds left on the clock. Things got even bleaker for the Hens when Delle Donne was tied up with 6.7 second remaining and the Hens out of time outs.
The possession arrow pointed in UD’s direction, but Martin was unable to draw up a play for her team. Then as the Hens tried to throw the ball in from the baseline, Trumae Lucas couldn’t fight her way through traffic to set a screen for Delle Donne. But the senior All-American cut to an open space at the top of the arc where Kayla Miller lobbed her the ball. Delle Donne then attacked the rim off the bounce, pulling up just before St. John’s defender Nadirah McKenith could slide into position to take a charge. With almost magical body control, Delle Donne leaned toward the rim, avoided contact with the defender and floated the ball off the glass and through the hoop for a game-winning shot with 0.7 seconds remaining.
Just as the Hens wrapped up the non-conference portion of their schedule strong, Delaware closed out the win at St. John’s by executing late. UD has now won three consecutive games against top-50 opponents, with two coming on neutral floors and one on the road. Delaware dominated in victories over Villanova and Duquesne, playing as well as it has all season long. Wednesday’s win over St. John’s was different.
Delaware did not play at its best. The Hens shot just 33 percent from the floor for the game and knocked down only 23 percent of their shots from the field in the second half. UD also turned the ball over 19 times as a team, with five different Hens giving it away at least three times each. Still, Delaware got its ninth win of the season by holding the Red Storm to just 23 percent shooting for the game and without a field goal in overtime.
Defense won the day yet again, that and a pair of gutty performances by May and Delle Donne.
May came off the bench with her team down 11 early in the opening half and immediately provided a spark. Her athleticism continues to give opponents issues as she has now averaged nine points and nine rebounds over the last three contests. That was exactly what she posted for the Hens at St. John’s.
May’s presence in the game also allows Delle Donne to shift to the perimeter offensively. When Delle Donne and May are both on the floor, Delle Donne often plays the “three” on offense, while May mans the power forward position. Then on defense May guards the smaller quicker opponent while Delle Donne defends the bigger post threat. The combo has been lethal to the Hens’ recent opponents.
Speaking of Delle Donne, she battled through a night when officials allowed St. John’s to push, shove, grab, bump and basically accost her as she battled for post position on offense. Some of the no-calls were appalling and it seemed to hinder Delle Donne’s shot, as she hit just seven of her 23 attempts from the floor. To her absolute credit however, Delle Donne found other ways to will her team to a win.
She grabbed 16 rebounds, blocked two shots and added a steal over 43 draining minutes. And of course you cannot forget her late heroics when she tied the game in the final seconds of regulation and hit the winning shot in literally the last second of overtime.
The Hens won with pure guts. They look like a team capable of big things come March. Gritty may not do it justice, but I can’t think of a better word to describe this Delaware team as CAA play is set to begin next week.
Before the game Martin told me if her team could beat St. John’s on the road and get to 9-3 after non-conference play she would be pleased with where her team was. After the way that ninth win came, the Hens head coach must be outright ecstatic.