Inside a surprisingly loud Daskalakis Center on Monday, you could not help but be impressed by the University of Delaware men’s basketball program for 36 minutes. Monté Ross’ Hens played like the team that won at Virginia and gave Kansas State all it could handle in November during most of their game at Drexel. UD took a 64-49 advantage with 4:22 left to play, but then watched the Dragons score 15 of the game’s next 16 points to pull within one. Drexel had a pair of makeable shots in the final 30 seconds for the win, but when both rimmed out, Delaware escaped Philadelphia with a 66-64 victory.
The triumph halted the Hens’ three-game losing streak and it got UD back over .500 in the CAA standings at 4-3, but the final four-plus minutes left a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone that witnessed it.
In many ways, though, that is how you could describe the entire night. At one point during the game, with the Hens on cruise control and in total command, I found myself emotionally torn.
On one hand, any observer could not help but be impressed by how sharp the Hens looked. With Drexel draped all over Jamelle Hagins in hopes of keeping him off the glass, Carl Baptiste pulled down seemingly every Drexel miss. The big man grabbed 13 rebounds off the bench to hold the Dragons to one-and-done on virtually every offensive trip. Meanwhile, on offense, Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt were drawing so much defensive attention that Kyle Anderson was left wide open to rain in shot after shot. The sophomore finished the night 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 on three-point field goals to lead all UD scorers with 15 points. It was beautiful to watch.
At the same time, you couldn’t shake a nagging sense that this is what the Hens should look like more often. In my humble opinion, Delaware is the most talented team in the CAA. The Hens may lack depth, but no one in the conference has a top-three anywhere near as good as Saddler, Hagins and Threatt. UD should be in the thick of the race for a regular season CAA crown—not facing pivotal turning-point games on the road at the end of January.
That’s what made Monday’s near collapse so disheartening. In many ways, it was the perfect microcosm for Delaware’s season to this point. Flashes of brilliance combined with periods of maddening mediocrity.
The good news is Delaware averted catastrophe and held on to beat their biggest rivals. I’m not sure how the Hens could have possibly bounced back from a loss like that. Now UD needs to make sure to build on the momentum of the first 36 minutes on Monday, and learn how to avoid repeating the final few painful moments.
There is still time for Delaware to find the consistency that will equal its talent-level and make the Hens a true contender to win the CAA Tournament in March; but eventually that clock is going to run out. The time is now for UD to play up to its potential.
Ross and his staff have put the pieces in place to be successful—now they just need to find a way to get their players to do it every night. It is certainly easier said than done, but the Hens have it in them. Until it comes out though, UD will be stuck on this bumpy emotional roller coaster that leaves everyone feeling unfulfilled when the ride comes to an end.