Hens fall in quarterfinal
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 02:03
RICHMOND, Va. – Monte Ross strode up to the podium to deliver what could be his final postgame press conference of the season.
Twice, he opened his mouth but no words came out. He toyed with the cap of his water bottle, searching for the right words.
This room can be one of the most depressing media rooms in the country. Numerous tears were shed this weekend as coaches came to terms with the end of the season, and players with the end of their college careers.
Ross was struggling. Delaware had just lost to No. 4 seed Old Dominion 88-74 in the quarterfinals of the CAA Men's Basketball Tournament Saturday afternoon at the Richmond Coliseum.
He finally began his opening statement.
"It's always a kick in the gut, the sharp finality of the end of a season," he said.
Two years ago, Ross was in this same room but in a much different situation. His future at Delaware was uncertain, the Hens finished last in the CAA that season and were knocked out in the first round of the conference tournament.
He can breathe easier now. This year, the Hens put up the best record of Ross' six-year tenure. They ended up fifth in the CAA, matching their highest finish since joining the conference in 2001.
A nine-game winning streak, an undefeated month of February and victories over CAA powers Drexel and George Mason highlighted the season. It has Delaware in a position where it has a chance to earn a possible berth to one of the minor postseason tournaments like the College Basketball Invitation or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
When Ross was asked about the possibility of playing in some type of postseason tournament, he cracked a smile.
"It's nice of you to be able ask that," he said, referring to where the team was two years ago.
Saturday, Delaware was aiming to make the semifinals of the conference tournament for the first time since its second year in the CAA. They beat No. 12 seed Towson 72-65 a day earlier to set up the Old Dominion matchup.
While the Hens were victorious over Towson, they suffered two key injuries. Senior forward Hakim McCullar had concussion-like symptoms after a hard foul and junior forward Kelvin McNeil limped off with a knee injury. McCullar was ruled out for the quarterfinal game, but McNeil was able to play with his knee wrapped.
Delaware shot 47.3 percent from the floor. It was the Hens' third-best shooting percentage of the season. But Old Dominion was even better. The Monarchs hit 48.6 percent of their shots.
"Every shot they put up was basically going in," Delaware sophomore guard Devon Saddler said. "Sometimes you have nights like that."
Saddler led the Hens with 24 points. Junior Jamelle Hagins and freshman Jarvis Threatt added 12 each.
Delaware stayed even with Old Dominion for most of the first half. The Hens led 38-36 with 3:42 left in the half before the Monarchs finished on an 11-4 run to take a five-point lead into the break.
The Monarchs picked up right where they left off to start the second half, and went on a 13-4 run in the half's first six minutes.
The Hens shot a higher percentage in the second half than the first, but still weren't able to keep pace with the Monarchs scoring.
"We're not built like that," Ross said. "It was an atypical game in terms of how both teams like to play. Both teams are pretty good defensively and we shot great and they shot great. You never really want to put yourself in that position where it becomes a shootout."
The closest the Hens got after that was 11 points with 10:53 remaining.
"Dog-gone it, they never started missing," Ross said. "That was the problem. Again, credit goes to them. I thought our guys played well. I thought they played well. They probably just outshot us a little bit."
Old Dominion was led by All-CAA first team member Kent Bazemore. He scored 24 points and was followed by Donte Hill. Bazemore was 9-20 from the field and Hill was 7-12.
"We thought they were gonna cool off," Hagins said. "They didn't."
Delaware will learn its postseason fate after the brackets for the NCAA Tournament and the NIT are announced Sunday. The CBI and CIT will offer invites to those teams not in the two major tournaments.
The first round of the CBI and CIT each begin March 13.