Three Pointer: Shooting propels Delaware past Northeastern

Northeastern lost to CAA leader Delaware 74-70 on Saturday. I’ll have a deeper look tomorrow at the Huskies’ habit of playing close games; in the meantime, a Three Pointer from Matthews Arena:

1. Delaware wins down the stretch… After an eight-minute delay due to a malfunctioning shot clock, the game was tied at 61 with 4:00 remaining. From that point forward, the difference between Delaware’s #50 offense (per KenPom) and Northeastern’s #228 unit became clear. The Blue Hens’ Devonne Pinkard drained a corner three, with no Huskies within 15 feet of him; on the other end, David Walker missed a pull-up jumper from 17 feet. Lead guard David Sadler easily drove into the lane and drew a foul, making one shot; on the other end, Demetrius Pollard missed a contested three. Finally, ace shooter Kyle Anderson capped the Delaware run with a trey late in the shot clock, giving the visitors a commanding 68-61 lead with a minute-plus left.

In the game’s critical stretch, Delaware’s offense simply had more threats. Northeastern’s attack is flawed, particularly in outside shooting (and ball control, but that wasn’t an issue Saturday). The Huskies can work around that flaw — they use the mid-range jumper effectively and have several good scorers at the rim — but it leaves them susceptible to cold streaks when opponents close down the paint, as Delaware did late in the second half (and during a four-minute scoreless streak early in the first). “I thought the difference in the game was our defense,” Delaware coach Monté Ross said.

2. …and Delaware almost blows it down the stretch. When David Walker missed a three-pointer at the one-minute mark and Carl Baptiste came down with the rebound, the Blue Hens seemed to have the game in hand — they led by seven points with the ball, a situation with a 99.4% win expectancy, per Ken Pomeroy’s calculator. But Devon Saddler and Devon Usher combined to get just one point from three intentional fouls — with each Devon missing the front end of a one-and-one — while Walker made a layup and a three to pull within one possession. Zach Stahl’s layup cut the lead to one point with 23 seconds left.

The Blue Hens settled down, as Usher made a pair of free throws, and then Baptiste seemed to seal the game again, blocking Stahl with seven seconds remaining. Saddler’s free throw made the margin four points. But as Walker flicked up a jumper in the waning seconds, Saddler inexplicably grabbed his shirt — and the shot went in, sending Walker to the line for one shot, down two, with 1.4 seconds remaining. His intentional miss never hit the rim, allowing Delaware to escape, but with much more drama than it wanted.

It was fitting that Baptiste’s block was key down the stretch; the forward played a nearly perfect game, scoring 19 points on 9-for-9 shooting and adding 11 rebounds and four blocks. “I think he separated the teams today,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “He got really deep post position and really took it to our big guys.”

3. Huskies do everything but shoot. For the game, Delaware posted an effective field-goal percentage of 63%, while Northeastern’s was just 41%. Yet the Huskies still hung close, mostly because they dominated every other aspect of the game — they dominated the glass on both ends (grabbing 31% of offensive rebounds and 92% of defensive rebounds), committed just four turnovers, and before the final minute’s intentional foul-fest, the Huskies had taken 24 free throws to the Blue Hens’ eight. In the first half, the Huskies scored 1.07 points per possession despite a 33% eFG, possibly the largest disparity I’ve ever seen.

The free-throw margin is striking, and the Huskies did receive their share of hometown whistles, but it also reflected each team’s style of play. It’s not that the Blue Hens didn’t attack the basket — they finished with 32 points in the paint — but when they did, Northeastern didn’t challenge them physically. (For example, Baptiste made his first nine shots before drawing a foul.) With Scott Eatherton and Reggie Spencer playing such large roles in the Huskies’ offense, they’re reluctant to commit fouls — which leads to few free-throws allowed, but also a lot of made shots at the rim.

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