Teddy Bailey (@TheTeddyBailey)
BALTIMORE– More than one pep band showed up, a fresh set of lights were flashed and a foreign arena was played in.
It was the CAA Tournament, no less, and the first for several Delaware Blue Hens eager to shock the league.
Had a phantom five-second violation not been called, or Chivarsky Corbett’s contact-imposed 3-pointer at the buzzer had fallen, they might have done just that.
Likewise in many games this season, the Hens battled ferociously to the buzzer. Delaware head coach Monte Ross went from being negatively-amazed by his team’s youth to awed by it. Likewise, the Blue Hens gave all that they had, and fell just short.
Four key free throws from Northeastern juniorDavid Walker helped the Huskies to a three-point lead with seven seconds remaining. Delaware’s young backcourt raced up the floor to find Corbett, whose buzzer heave clanked off the rim and Northeastern escaped with a 67-64 win over Delaware in the Quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament.
“You get in these things to win,” Ross said. “And we did not win, so we came up short. But when you don’t win, what you want to have happened is that you leave everything out there on the court. I thought that our guys left everything out there on the court. I couldn’t be prouder of them with the way that they played tonight, the way they went about their business.”
Freshman guard Kory Holden paced Delaware primarily in the first half, scoring 16 of his game-high 20 points in the opening half. Holden was called for a crucial five-second violation around the perimeter with 2:03 remaining, one that was mind-numbingly absent.
“There’s two minutes to go in the game,” Ross said. “It was a one-point game. You have to have a better feel. Kory was standing, and the guy was just right in front of him. It’s not like he was up there pressuring him. You have to have a better feel in a great game that was going on.”
The Huskies were able to benefit from seven Delaware turnovers in the first four minutes to spark a 35-31 halftime lead. Following the break, that lead quickly became a back-and-forth battle between two teams that were fighting for their lives.
A pair of Reggie Spencer free throws pushed Northeastern’s lead to 61-54 with just 5:37 to play. That was where things got much more interesting. A quick 6-0 Delaware run, courtesy of the free-throw line, cut the Huskies’ lead to 61-60 with 2:52 to play. Holden spun his way for a basket with 30 seconds remaining to cut it to one yet again, but Northeastern did just enough at the charity stripe to send the Hens home.
“It’s something we’ve done all year,” Delaware senior guard Kyle Anderson said of coming back from behind. “It’s nothing new to us. When we get down in any game we know that we can comeback and win it. Maybe it helped earlier in the year that we lost so many games. We don’t want to get down, but when we do get down we know that we can still win it. We came back a couple times tonight and gave ourselves chances to win, we just didn’t pull through.”
“We played really good defense,” Holden said. “There were times where we took a couple bad shots. Defense kept us in the game whether or not our shot was falling or not.”
In their first CAA Tournaments, Holden and Corbett were seemingly lights-out at times. Holden was able to dazzle the Royal Farms Arena crowd in the first half with ridiculous step back jumpers and 3-pointers.
“When I woke up this morning,” Holden said. “I was a little nervous. But as I was getting dressed and had my music on, I was fine. It was just another basketball game. I was pretty relaxed once the ball went up for the tip.”
“Coming down the stretch,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “I thought they played as well as any team in this conference. They have a very young roster and it’s a credit to their coaching staff that they played as well as they did. I thought that they matured over the year as well as any team here. We knew coming in that we would have our hands full.”
Whether or not the university will bring back Ross is to be determined, but what isn’t to be determined is the young core of talent that the Hens will retain. Sophomore forward Maurice Jeffers was a force inside against First Team All-CAA Scott Eatherton of Northeastern. Jeffers limited Eatherton to just nine points, along with scoring ten points of his own.
“Mo has become that stapled big-guy that we’ve had the past couple years,” Ross said. “That’s really exciting. He has grown up right before our eyes. To start the year, we werent really anticipating him being a back to the basket presence. The future is, wow, he has a chance to be really good. The combination of the guys that we have coming back makes it really exciting for the future of our program.”
“We’re going to be really good, it’s scary. We gelled this year and we’re only losing two people. It’s going to be scary for the league next year when we get better in the summer and spring. We were horrible in the beginning of the season and we came together and keep improving.”
For Anderson, the lone contributing senior on the roster, this one was bittersweet. The future Delaware legend saw his team hoist a CAA championship banner in 2013-2014 and was instrumental in this year’s consistent improvement.
“It’s never nice going out with a loss,” Anderson said. “But it’s nice knowing that we went out playing as hard as we did. It definitely felt like a championship game. Whenever you get this far in the tournament, whether it’s the quarterfinals, semifinals, every game feels like a championship game. For us to come out with only myself and Marvin [King-Davis] having experience in playing in an environment like this, it was fun. It was a fun game to play in, I wish we could have won it though.”
Now, it’s a matter of waiting.