Tom Zamonski (@tomzamonski)
A five minute stretch during the second half proved to be too much for the University of Delaware. The culprit? Cramps.
Leg cramps to big man Jamelle Hagins and Jarvis Threatt in the second half allowed for Kansas St. to have their way in the paint. While Devon Saddler did everything he could to lead a late comeback in their absence, the Blue Hens fell 66-63.
“I am very concerned about it because I watch a lot of basketball and we are the only team in the country that is cramping,” Monte Ross said. “Like what’s wrong?”
With 13:54 to go and his team down 39-37, Hagins fell to the ground holding onto his thigh. Hagins would sit out until the 8:53 mark. During that stretch Kansas St. went on a 19-4 run and took a 54-43 lead.
Threatt would exit the game late in the second half and would not return. He finished with 5 points and a game high six turnovers.
It was an unusual occurrence for Hagins.
“It was a new experience,” Hagins explained. “It must been something I ate or didn’t eat.”
Before the cramp issue, Hagins was dominating the game. He had 15 rebounds and 2 blocks while shooting a perfect 6-6 from the field to give him 12 points. After the cramp issue he would not register another rebound, point, or block.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and find out what we are doing, what we are eating, what we are not eating,” Ross said, “and if it’s stealing secrets from someone else then we need to steal some secrets. We have to find out exactly what the problem is here.”
Hagins was having his way on the glass. He had a game high 15 rebounds but Kansas St. still won the battle of the boards 39-34. The Wildcats were also able to grab 18 offensive rebounds compared to Delaware’s 11.
Hagins would briefly return to action but the cramp caused too much discomfort. He would finish the game with only playing 27 minutes.
“Personally I thought I was hurting the team more than I was helping the team,” Hagins said. “I couldn’t really move like I wanted to move.”
With Hagins sidelined, Saddler did everything he could to try and lead a comeback.
“I knew I had to step up as a leader. I had to step up and make plays,” Saddler said. “I had to get everyone and not become frustrated after they made a big run. I was just trying to be a stopper on defense and take it one play at a time.”
Saddler’s determination was almost enough to push the Blue Hens to a victory. His play gave Ross a flash back to another impressive performance at the Garden a few years ago.
“It’s crazy because…what came to my mind was Kemba Walker from UConn,” Ross said. “It was strange because Kemba Walker did the same thing for UConn in the Big East tournament. He just willed his team to victory.”
Saddler scored a game high 32 points, narrowing the lead to as low as 2 with 1:18 remaining. His goal was not to put on a show at the Garden by scoring as many points as possible. Rather, Saddler was trying to lead his team to a win.
“I was just trying to win. I was trying to give them my all. It wasn’t about the points, it was about the win. I was cramping too but I just had to stay out there as the team captain and suck it up,” Saddler said.
Saddler took 22 shots from the field and made 12 (54.5 percent). Delaware as a team shot 44.4 percent from the field (24-54) and Kansas St. made 25 of 65 from the field (38.5 percent).
Ross was not surprised by Saddler’s performance in New York because of his desire to win.
“He is a young man who is not fazed by anything. I knew for sure he wouldn’t be awestruck by playing at the Garden, wouldn’t be awestruck by Kansas St. because he plays the game like he wants to win,” Ross said. “You start with that base of wanting to win and not worrying about how many points you score or how many shots you take. When your base is you want to win and build off that. He is a special kid for me to coach.”
Ross also believes that Saddler is a great leader for his team because he puts the team before himself.
“With this me first type of society, he is all about winning,” Ross said. “It is all he cares about.”
For Kansas St. it was a complete team effort with 11 players seeing time on the floor. Angel Rodriguez, Will Spradling, and Thomas Gipson had 12 points apiece for the Wildcats.
Kansas St.’s depth was able to put away Delaware. The Wildcats had six players that scored at least 6 points. For Delaware, only Saddler and Hagins were able score more than 6 points. The duo accounted for 69.8 percent (44 of 63) of their team’s scoring. While Kansas St.’s bench outscored Delaware’s 32 to 6.
The lack of depth following Hagins’ departure was an issue for Ross and his team.
“He is our rock,” Ross said. “He is our guy when we need a bucket we throw it to him. When we need a big rebound he gets it. When we need a key block he blocks it. When you take away one of your heart and souls, we aren’t just going to go “ok you go replace Jamelle”. He is our guy.”
Spradling, an 82.9 percent free throw shooter before the game, buried two free throws to give Kansas St. a 66-62 with 9.6 remaining to put the game out of reach for Delaware.
Spradling would go 4-4 from the line and Kansas St. shot 85.7 percent (12-14) from the line. The Blue Hens struggled from the free throw line shooting only 61.1 percent (11-18).
With 32 points, Saddler surpassed Pete Mullenberg and Frank Wickes on Delaware’s Career points list. He has 1,094 points which ranks him as the 23rd highest scorer in Blue Hens history.
Delaware will face off against Pittsburgh on Friday in the third place game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden. The game can be seen on ESPN at 2:30.