Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
After a tight opening half, Delaware (1-1) pulled away with a big run after intermission behind double-digit efforts from four players, beating Penn (1-1) 84-69 in the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Monday night down at the University of Virginia.
Blue Hen senior guard and Preseason All-CAA First Team selection Devon Saddler had a team-high 19 points for Delaware though he shot just 4-of-13 from the floor; Josh Brinkley (15 points), Terrell Rogers (14 points) and Jarvis Threatt (12 points) joined Saddler in double figures.
Penn hung with Delaware for the better part of the opening 20 minutes, leading 31-30 just over sixteen minutes in before an 8-0 Blue Hen run consisting entirely of free-throws helped them pull away for a 43-35 halftime lead. That trend continued after the teams came out of the locker rooms, with six different players contributing to a 19-3 run that gave Delaware a 62-38 lead from which Penn would not be able to recover.
“I challenged our guys to see who could step up in the second half,” Delaware coach Monte Ross said, “and Devon responded, getting into (Miles) Cartwright’s face a little in the second which helped.”
The Quakers got strong offensive efforts from junior co-captains Cartwright (6-of-12, 20 points) and Fran Dougherty (6-of-8, 21 points), though Cartwright played just 28 minutes before fouling out with 2:39 to play.
This was the second-consecutive game in which Penn has faced a 20-point deficit; they clawed back from a 42-20 disadvantage in their season-opener against Maryland-Baltimore County in a game they ultimately won 80-75.
“We have a young team,” Dougherty said, “but it is guys like me who need to step up and be there when it counts. We dug ourselves in a big hole being down 20 again and it is always hard to battle back from that.”
With both teams each turning it over 18 times, this game was ultimately won on the boards. Delaware out-rebounded Penn 46-21, including a 14-5 advantage on the offensive boards, getting nine each from Brinkley and Carl Baptiste as well as eight from Saddler and seven from Jamelle Hagins, who only had six points in 16 minutes because of foul trouble.
Cartwright was one of three Quakers to foul out in a whistle-heavy game that had 55 fouls and 67 free-throws between the two teams. Delaware shot 28-of-38 (73.7 percent) from the charity stripe to Penn’s 18-of-29 (62.1 percent).
Penn got 29 minutes from freshman point guard Jamal Lewis in his first appearance as a Quaker. Lewis, a 6-foot guard from Springdale, Md., shot just 1-for-6 (1-for-3 from 3-point range) but chipped in two assists and three steals without turning the ball over. Fellow freshmen Tony Hicks had four points on 2-of-8 shooting in 20 minutes in his second consecutive start, while Darien Nelson-Henry had three points and three rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench.
Delaware, the eighth seed in the 16-team tournament, advances to the second round of the main bracket, where they’ll face second-seeded Virginia at 7pm on ESPN.3. Penn will play Fairfield in the consolation bracket at 4:30pm, with audio on PennAthletics.com.