Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When a Penn lineup that consisted mainly of backups jumped out to a quick lead, Delaware coach Monté Ross responded by benching his own starting lineup.
For a three-minute stretch in the first half, with their team already down 12-2, Blue Hens starters Devon Saddler, Jarvis Threatt, Kyle Anderson, Josh Brinkley and Jamelle Hagins were called to the bench, forced to watch as their teammates tried to stop an early Quaker blitz.
While the starters re-entered to that same 10-point deficit, the bench had helped the tide begin to turn. It was all Delaware from then on out as the Blue Hens won on their home court, 83-60, beating the Quakers for the second time this season.
“I told them at halftime, I don’t like doing that, I don’t like making statements like that,” Ross told reporters afterwards. “I didn’t think that we weren’t ready physically, I just thought mentally they just weren’t as sharp as we needed to be.
“It’s one thing if you’re contesting shots and they’re just making shots, but they were making layups and we weren’t where we needed to be altogether. I thought these guys responded properly when we put them back in the game and got us going.”
“When I looked up at the scoreboard, of course I was like ‘What’s going on?’ I knew we would get a chance to come out against so we just had to turn it around,” Threatt said.
Usual Penn starters Miles Cartwright (14.3 ppg), Steve Rennard (4.4 ppg) and Henry Brooks (4.0 ppg) were benched along with reserves Darien Nelson-Henry (3.6 ppg) and Tony Hicks (5.1 ppg) by Penn coach Jerome Allen for a “violation of team rules,” robbing the Quakers of four of their top five leading scorers as only Fran Dougherty (15.4 ppg) played on Friday night. A spirited group of backups led by Greg Louis held their own for stretches, including that opening burst, but eventually Delaware’s talent proved too much.
(Lineup changes: For more on the suspensions and Louis’ big game, read Andrew Koob’s sidebar)
Threatt’s layup with 3:15 remaining in the first half gave Delaware their first lead of the game at 25-24; that 3-point play was part of an 13-2 run that lasted the final 5:45 of the first half and sent the Blue Hens into the break with a 32-26 lead. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Saddler pushed that lead to 12 to begin the second half; Penn would get no closer than nine the rest of the way.
“I thought one of the things I was most proud of was our ball movement,” Ross said. “I thought our ball movement was the best that we’ve had all year long. We’ve got some talented guys, and when they move the ball like that, we’re gonna make shots. We didn’t make them in the first half but the guys just stayed confident and I was really proud of the effort defensively to get the win tonight.”
After shooting just 33.3 percent (15-of-45) in the first half, Delaware would make 47.2 percent (17-of-36) of their shots after intermission to help them pull away. The real problem in the opening stretch was the defensive intensity, sometimes the bench players brought to the court to help remind the starters of what mattered.
Tthey gave us a great lift off the bench and when we came in we just wanted to focus on defense,” Threatt said. “Offensive-wise, we’ll get started eventually, with the talent we have on this team.”
Threatt and Hagins would pace the Blue Hens with 18 points apiece while Saddler and Terrell Rogers added 12 each as the four players on the team in double figures. Louis (19 points) and Doughtery (18 points) were the only Quakers to hit that benchmark, though Patrick Lucas-Perry added nine off the bench.
The two teams had previously met on Nov. 12 in each squads’ second game of the year, a 84-69 Delaware win in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off down in Virginia. The Blue Hens held a 47-24 rebounding edge in that first game and won the battle of the boards again on Friday night, 51-35, helping them to a 33-9 advantage on points in the paint.
The win broke a two-game losing streak for Delaware, who only have a New Years’ Eve game against Rider remaining before they open league play at Old Dominion on Jan. 5. Penn, losers of three straight and eight of their last nine, are in action next Saturday when they travel up to Wagner on Dec. 29.