Hens squeak by Northeastern, advance to CAA quarterfinals
Delaware will take on ODU 6 p.m Saturday
Published: Saturday, March 5, 2011
Updated: Friday, March 11, 2011 23:03
RICHMOND, Va. – Delaware's seniors, Jawan Carter, Brian Johnson and D.J. Boney, saw their careers flashing before their eyes. They wanted one more game.
The trio, along with freshman star Devon Saddler, all hit big shots down the stretch, and the seventh-seeded Hens held on Friday night to beat No. 10-seed Northeastern 60-58 in the first round of the CAA tournament. The win was Delaware's first in the tournament since 2008.
"I thought our seniors tonight were terrific," head coach Monte Ross said. "It just shows that inner-most ‘I don't wanna go home, I wanna keep playing.'"
With five seconds left on the clock and Northeastern driving for a game-winning shot, this attitude was clear on both sides. The ball squirted loose around mid-court, and a heap of bodies developed on top of the tournament logo.
No one was able to secure it before the final horn sounded, sending Delaware into the next round to face No. 2-seed Old Dominion on Saturday.
"I wanted it bad," Saddler said about the final scramble. "I was diving, jumping on everybody. I was trying to get the win anyway possible."
In a season full of comeback wins and tension-filled endings, this game was no different. Delaware trailed by 3 coming out of the final media timeout.
Carter drove down the lane with the shot clock winding down and got trapped before kicking the ball out to an open Johnson on the wing. The ball barely left his hand before the buzzer sounded and swished through the net, tying the game at 54.
A mere 20 seconds later, Carter was racing towards the lane yet again, after a steal. In a repeat of the previous play, he dished to the wing. This time Saddler drained the 3-pointer, putting the Hens ahead for good.
"In both situations, both guys were really wide open," Carter said. "With the game going the way it was, it was almost a tug of war. When you got a situation to get guys to put you up 3, it was kind of a big thing."
Two free throws by Northeastern's leading scorer, senior guard Chaisson Allen, brought the Huskies back to within a point. A layup by Johnson gave Delaware its 3-point cushion back with 1:11 remaining.
Delaware needed free throws to secure the victory. Both times, Carter, who had hit 37 straight and leads the CAA with a 90 percent shooting percentage from the line, was shooting.
But he missed three out of four attempts within the final 18 seconds.
"If I get the same situation tomorrow, I look forward to it," he said about being back on the line.
Allen missed a potential game-winner, a 3-pointer, with nine seconds left, and then the mass scramble ensued after Carter missed his final pair of free throws.
Ross was able to find humor in the situation at the post-game press conference.
"We were gonna make him walk home if we lost," he joked.
He did credit Carter, who lead the Hens with 17 points, with calming the team down at the beginning of the game. Carter hit his first three shots, including two 3-pointers to score Delaware's first 8 points.
The game was especially important for Carter, who has struggled with his shots in his last two trips to the tournament. He emphasized not wanting to end his career on a sour note.
"It comes to a point sometimes," he said. "Your time clock starts to tick a little faster. You start to realize it's now or never."
The moment was not lost on Johnson either. The guard sat out last season with a torn ACL and missed part of this season with a torn meniscus.
"In my Delaware career, this is the most important win," he said. "This is it. There's no coming back to Richmond."
Johnson played a season-high 30 minutes. He scored 10 points and chipped in a pair of assists.
Boney did not miss a shot from the field, scoring 9 points in the game. He hit two 3-pointers when the Hens needed some offensive support while Carter was on the bench in foul trouble in the second half.
Saddler, fresh off being named the CAA Freshman of the Year Thursday night, had 13 points. He struggled in the first half, only scoring two points before coming on when the Hens needed him most.
"When I first got on the court, I had a little jitters in me," he said of his first-ever CAA tournament action. "The first half, I was turning the ball over. Brian talked to me at halftime and told me to get the jitters out. After that, it was time to go to war."
The Hens will return to the court 6 p.m. Saturday. They have faced the Monarchs twice this year, defeating them in Newark to open the conference season before losing in Norfolk 67-59.
Saturday's game will be televised by the Comcast Network.
With tonight's win and facing a team it has beaten already this season, Delaware has the most confidence it's had in a long time in the CAA Tournament and is not going to settle for anything less than a win.
"We're not into moral victories," Johnson said. "We want to win tomorrow. We want to win and advance and keep playing until they collect the jerseys."
Stay with udreview.com all weekend for ongoing coverage of the tournament or pick up Tuesday's paper for a post-tournament wrap up. For live updates, follow sports editors Tim and Kevin Mastro on Twitter.