NEW YORK CITY – It was a great situation to be in.
At the same time it could, understandably so, have been a bit unnerving.
Jarvis Threatt is averaging 12 points, five boards, and 2.5 assists on the young season for Coach Monte Ross (Credit: Mark Jordan)
Delaware took the floor at Madison Square Garden. It was the Preseason NIT. It was the eve of Thanksgiving in New York City. And if it sounded intimidating or overwhelming, one can reason why.
Regardless, Delaware of the CAA and second round conqueror of Virginia, was competing toe-to-toe with Kansas State. They were in a one possession game against the Big 12 representatives, trailing by two at the half. A half their coach felt was far from their best effort.
The second half saw Kansas State’s transition and perimeter touch open a double-digit lead. In the waning moments it appeared Delaware’s valiant effort was over. But they fought back again, taking the game to the final possession before falling 66-63. That second 20 minutes was much improved. The outcome though, was not without the pain of disappointment.
The Blue Hens suffered a second half setback when 6-foot-9 senior Jamelle Hagins left the game with a cramp. He finished with 12 points 15 rebounds in 27 minutes of action.
Hagins represented the Blue Hens interior strength as well as the team’s heart and soul. “I like to think the results are different if I finish the game,” Hagins said later. “But you never know.”
Delaware coach Monte Ross was virtually sure Hagins presence would have sent his team to Friday’s finals. “You just can’t get someone to fill in and replace a kids like Hagins,” Ross said. “He gets you that big bucket, the big rebound, the block you need.”
Hagins or not, Kansas State Bruce Weber, a veteran of over three decades of coaching, knows and can quickly identify a good team. “Delaware definitely is tough,” Weber said. “Credit Delaware… they kept pushing us and pushing us [figuratively].”
To a player, head coach and assistants scouting the second contest between Pitt and Michigan, Delaware wanted no part of the moral victory angle. They came to New York prepared and confident they could get a victory.
Saddler poured in 32 on Wednesday evening (Credit: Mark Jordan)
Taking a step back and looking at the situation with a dash of perspective, Ross is genuinely excited about the program. There is the aforementioned Hagins. Junior guard Devon Saddler is a player, having paced all scorers with 32 points, a performance transcending a box score. “Devon (Saddler) was like a Kemba Walker was for UCONN two years ago.,“ Ross said. “He was willing us to win.“ Freshman guard Terrell Rogers is developing and the staff is excited about this player to watch.
Ross does have a concern and addressed the problem with cramping. “I think we are the leaders in that (cramping),” Ross said. “Cramping with key players not only cost us tonight but our opening game loss with La Salle. I don’t know what we are doing or not doing but we have to evaluate the situation. And I am concerned with Jamelle’s (Hagins) recovery.”
The loss aside, Ross maintains enthusiasm and excitement. “The Preseason NIT gave us the opportunity to play Virginia, Kansas State and either Pitt or Michigan (it is to be Pitt) on Friday,” he said. “That really gives us a chance to be tested and learn about ourselves. We can look at these games and figure what we need to do”
Ross also emphasized how his teams have always gotten better as the season progresses. It is ingrained in his coaching style which begins with practice and is carried over week to week in the games.
“We have always prided ourselves at playing our best ball at the end of the year,” Ross said. “I am really excited to see how this group responds to the way we are going to practice and be good at the end of the year.”
Today at 2:30pm, the consolation game awaits. At times these are exercises in frustration for teams playing with the hangover of a loss.
Not in this case. And not for Delaware. The game will be a chance to be tested and continue learning about themselves.
And maybe grab a nice win in the process.
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