Chris Bengel (@clbengel)
When Virginia freshman Evan Nolte hit a 3-pointer, erasing an 18-point Delaware advantage to put his team up one on their home court with 7:58 to go, it was put up or shut up time for the visiting squad.
Blue Hens leading scorer Devon Saddler stepped up and made two huge threes following Nolte’s big shot which helped Delaware to a 59-53 win in the Regional Final of the 2012 NIT Preseason Tip-Off and earn a berth in next week’s semifinals at the famed Madison Square Garden.
The key play came with 47 seconds left in the game when Delaware (2-1) was clinging to a 54-50 lead. The Blue Hens absolutely smothered Virginia (1-2) on the defensive end and forced a shot clock violation; Saddler made five of his six free-throws down the stretch to seal it.
Despite getting in foul trouble early in the first half, Saddler finished with 12 points (3-of-12 shooting), four rebounds, and two assists. One of the Aberdeen, Md. native’s biggest assets was his contributions at the charity stripe as he made 7-of-8. Saddler was one of three Blue Hens in double figures; guard Jarvis Threatt had 14 points and five rebounds while forward Jamelle Hagins netted 10 points to go with a massive 16 boards.
Delaware closed out the first half in tremendous fashion as they finished on a 13-4 run over the final 4:41, out-rebounding Virginia 17-15 over the opening 20 minutes and 32-20 for the game. That defensive stop at the end of the game continued a solid performance by the Blue Hens on that end of the court, where they held the Cavaliers to just 35.1 percent (20-of-57) from the floor and 19.0 percent (4-of-21) from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Cavaliers were led early by forward Akil Mitchell, who finished with 15 points to go along with 13 rebounds; the second half was the Joe Harris show, as the guard scored 17 of his game-high 20 points after intermission.
Delaware forward Carl Baptiste came in off the bench and provided the spark that the Blue Hens needed when the offense was struggling early on in the game. The former Saint Joseph’s Hawk scored four consecutive points for Delaware to give them a 9-8 lead with 7:55 remaining in the first half; those would be his only points of the game. Sophomore guard Kyle Anderson was 2-for-4 from the floor, including two 3s in the first half for the Blue Hens.
Delaware’s next game will be next Wednesday night against either Kansas State or D-II Alabama-Huntsville, who upset North Texas in the first round.