Lafayette survives furious Delaware’s comeback

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Delaware’s Kyle Anderson had a last-chance look to tie the game, but his 3-point attempt was off at the buzzer. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Michael Kelley (@hmmm_mikekelley)

With Lafayette leading by 20 early in the second half against Delaware, Fran O’Hanlon looked calm on the bench, an expression rarely seen from the 18th year head coach. But that changed very quickly when a tired and frustrated Delaware team suddenly found life to complete a 12-1 run to cut the lead and turn what was once a blowout into a nail biter that came down to the final seconds.

Lafayette (2-6) hung on, but just barely. Up 63-60 with seconds to play, point guard Tony Johnson turned the ball over off an inbounds pass, giving Delaware one last ditched attempt to tie the game–a Kyle Anderson shot that bounced off the back iron, much to the relief of the Lafayette bench and the crowd at the Kirby Sports Center.

“The only play that I was disappointed on was that last play,” O’Hanlon said. “Those things happen, but fortunately we recovered and made that a bad shot.”

The win provided a much-needed sigh of relief for Lafayette, which ended a five game skid.

Four Leopards scored in double figures – forward Dan Trist with 16 and Johnson, Joey Ptasinski, and Seth Hinrichs each with 13. Lafayette shot an effective 46.2 percent from the field (24-of-52) and 40.0 percent from beyond the arc (6-of-15). But after five three-pointers in the first half, Lafayette made just one in the second half.

Lafayette had just 10 turnovers, much less than their 18.6 season average – a stat that has to make O’Hanlon happy, and perhaps a bit more comforted heading forward.

A highly-regarded Delaware team came into the game boasting two-matchup nightmares–point guard Devon Saddler (22.2 ppg) and center Jamelle Hagins (12.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg).

To help limit the Blue Hen stars, O’Hanlon instituted a 1-3-1 zone defense. Saddler did manage to score 17 points, but on just 6-of-19 shooting. Hagins, however, thrived, scoring 18 points (5-of-7 from the field, 8-of-8 from the free throw line) and grabbing 23 rebounds, a career high.

It was a tale of two halves for Delaware (2-5), who shot a measly 27.6 percent in the first half, but 44.8 percent in the second half. With 10:17 remaining, the lead was down to single digits and with less than a minute to play, it was down to three. But a pair of free throws from Ptasinski seemed to seal it, until the Johnson turnover.

“We knew they were going to make a run in the second half. They’re too good of a basketball team,” O’Hanlon said.

“We built a big lead up and that’s obviously what helped us get the win,” Johnson said.

Part of the comeback came from rebounds, which the Blue Hens dominated in the second half to win the margin 41-26. The second half also featured a more inside-focused attack from Delaware.

“Once we figured out we could attack the lane, we realized we could score the ball, but it was just too late,” Hagins said.

With another impressive performance, Trist left all doubt behind about his ankle injury that he suffered in the warm-ups to the Kentucky game two weeks ago.

“Dan gave us that inside-out presence,” O’Hanlon said. “That makes us so much more effective.”

The loss brought Delaware’s losing streak to four and an increased frustration from coach Monte Ross.

“This is what you call a bad day at the office,” he said.

Next up for Lafayette is a rematch against LIU-Brooklyn on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

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