HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The Delaware Blue Hens went on the first significant run. The Hofstra Pride answered with its own. And they kept trading spurts, again and again. Back and forth, the two Colonial Athletic Association rivals sparred throughout their game at The Mack Sports Complex on Thursday night until, with the score tied, junior guard Kevin Anderson ended the struggle.
Driving down the lane Anderson, floated a right-handed layup through the net with three-tenths of a second remaining to lift Delaware (14-7, 4-4 CAA) to a hard-fought 73-71 win.
For Hofstra (14-7, 5-3 CAA), the final outcome evened an especially competitive stretch during which the Pride (four the first time in four decades) played a fourth consecutive game decided by two points. Hofstra won the first two but dropped the last two over that period. The loss was only the Pride’s second in its last 13 meetings with the Blue Hens and ended Hofstra’s 10-game regular season winning streak over Delaware.
While the Blue Hens didn’t secure its victory until the game’s final shot, they used a sizable 48-28 advantage in the paint to get there. Leading the way on that front was redshirt sophomore forward Justyn Mutts (a transfer from High Point), who scored a career-high 30 points, making all but three of his 17 shots, while grabbing a game-best 13 rebounds. Redshirt junior forward Dylan Painter (a transfer from Villanova) helped Mutts down low with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Anderson matched Painter’s 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting while Delaware’s leading scorer, redshirt junior guard Nate Darling (a transfer from UAB), was held in check with 11 points, more than eight below his season average.
Senior guard Desure Buie led Hofstra with 19 points. Sophomore forward Isaac Kante added 16 points while senior guard Eli Pemberton and junior guard Jalen Ray had 11 points each. The Pride shot just 36.4 percent (24-for-66) and made only one-third of its 36 field goal attempts in the second half.
With Delaware leading 7-5, Mutts scored two straight baskets and Darling hit a 3-pointer to put the Blue Hens up by nine, but Hofstra held Delaware more than eight minutes without a field goal while going on a 20-1 run, to take its biggest lead, 27-17, with 6:13 left in the opening half.
By that point, the Pride had taken advantage of the game’s first eight fouls being called on the Blue Hens. However, the whistle went 18-9 the other way for the rest of the game.
As that shifted, Delaware began to answer Hofstra’s big spurt with a 19-3 run of its own (behind Painter’s first nine points of the game), to regain the lead, 36-30.
The Pride responded with seven of the final eight points of the half (with Buie scoring the next four points before kicking out a nice pass to the right corner for a Ray 3-pointer) to pull within 38-37 by halftime.
The Blue Hens extended their lead with the first six points of the second half before Buie scored the same on a three-point play and a 3-pointer to slice Delaware’s lead to 46-45.
After the Blue Hens scored the next 10 points, Hofstra bounced back again on an 18-6 run, to go back up, 63-62, on Buie’s final points (on a jumper), with 4:54 remaining. That spurt was extended to 21-8, to put the Pride up, 66-64.
A Mutts three-point play gave the Blue Hens a 67-66, but a great drive by Pemberton — who spun in the lane, absorbed contact and scored (as part of a three-point play) — inched Hofstra back in front, 69-67, with 2:10 to play.
That was the Pride’s final lead, however, as Mutts tied the game on a layup and then grabbed his last rebound and scored his final points, snatching an Anderson airball and scoring on another layup to give Delaware a 71-69 lead with 18.6 seconds to go.
“I know we didn’t go after the ball because Mutts just grabbed the ball and made a layup,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “I don’t know who was near him. I don’t know who should’ve been trying to box him out. I’ve got to look at the tape.”
Buie was blocked on Hofstra’s next possession, but the Pride retained possession, and after a timeout, Ray was fouled and made two free throws to tie the game again, 71-71, with 6.1 seconds left.
Following a Delaware timeout, the Blue Hens inbounded the ball in the backcourt to Anderson, who got by Ray along the right sideline, then passed Pemberton as he darted toward the Hofstra foul line.
From there, Anderson drove down the lane, taking off from the CAA logo just below the foul line and with a nice touch, arced a running shot barely over the outstretched hand of the Pride’s last line of defense — junior forward Stafford Truehart — and through the next leaving Hofstra only three-tenths of a second for an inbound pass and a Delaware steal at midcourt as time expired.
Exasperated, Mihalich said, “We let a guy with a blue shirt dribble through five guys and make a layup, and shame on us for doing that. There was no screen set, there was no fancy play run…. we let [Anderson] catch the ball and dribble through everybody.”
It was the type of scenario which Mihalich feared could cost his team after what he witnessed the day before.
“Yesterday, at the end of practice, we did a session on situations and we did a lousy job, and it showed tonight,” Mihalich added.
Anderson’s heroics earned the Blue Hens bragging rights for having the top play on ESPN’s SportsCenter:
Who's #1️⃣ ?
— Delaware Men’s Basketball (@DelawareMBB) January 24, 2020
Taking some solace in the Pride’s ability to rally a few times, but ultimately disappointed in the final result, Mihalich said, “We swam back. A couple of times, I thought we were dead in the water and we didn’t let that happen. But games like that, in the end, you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to make plays, you’ve got to do the little things on offense [and] defense to win the game, and we just didn’t do it down the stretch. We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves, starting with me.”
Perplexed by Hofstra’s inconsistent runs, effort and mental resoluteness throughout the game, Mihalich said, “We weren’t tough for 40 minutes tonight. We had some stretches of toughness. We came out soft and we had some soft stretches in the second half. The game honors toughness and if you’re not tough, you’re not going to be successful.”
Looking ahead, Mihalich said, “I’m not worried because I think these guys will respond. I’d only be worried if I thought these guys didn’t care and these guys really care… I’d only be worried if these guys weren’t willing to learn, and I know they are willing to learn.”
On that note, Buie and Kante seemed to already know what Mihalich will be expecting.
“We’ve got to stay focused and pay attention to detail,” Buie said.
Kante added, “We’ve just got to accept it and get better. The next practice, we’ve got to be locked in and focused all the way through.”
Hofstra will next host Drexel — which will come to Hempstead off of a 60-point swing over two games (after handing first-place William & Mary its only conference loss of the season, by 27 points, before losing at Northeastern by 33 points) — in a typically very unpredictable CAA matchup.
“It’s like a one-game season every time you play a league game,” Mihalich said. “It’s the way the league is. You’ve got to be ready to go every night and if we’re not tougher on Saturday, we might be feeling bad again after that game.”
Although he, of course, wanted to win, Mihalich found some possible long-term value in losing when Hofstra — which Mihalich believes is much better than what the Pride showed against Delaware — was far from its best.
“We don’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves,” Mihalich said. “We’re not going to do that. We didn’t deserve to win this game. It’s probably a blessing in disguise because we’re going to really put the magnifying glass on those last two plays (Mutts’ late offensive rebound and basket, and Anderson’s game-winner). It wasn’t those last two plays. It was the stretches of soft play [and] stretches of lack of execution that put us in that situation. We had a 10-point lead in the first half and we didn’t build on it, and then we dug a hole in the second half. It was that [which] lost the game for us.
“We’re gonna be angry and deal with it and get ready to play on Saturday because that’s what good teams do, and this is a good team. We didn’t play like a good team tonight, but this is a good team.”