BOSTON – Monte Ross can surely see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel with his young team. That light may not have been visible early on, but it can’t be missed now. His team is growing too much and doing too much for that not to be the case, all of it evident as they came to Boston and knocked off Northeastern on Saturday.
Delaware has had to bounce back from a lot this year. First it was ten straight losses to open the season, some close, some not so close. It didn’t help that Kyle Anderson, their best returning player, missed the first seven games due to a right hand injury. Later, it’s been some tough losses in CAA play. They have also had to deal with speculation about Ross’ job status given that it’s not exactly a state secret that his contract is up after this season and there has not been an extension despite last year’s conference championship. Through it all, they have grown into a better team, perhaps more than a lot of teams with their experience level might.
On Saturday, the latest thing they had to bounce back from was the start of the second half. Delaware led for a lot of the first half, but Northeastern scored the first ten points of the second half, and at that point this young team could have gone away. Instead, they didn’t, as a little after they broke that run they went on a 16-3 run of their own.
“A lot of teams would have wilted in that situation, but our guys just rallied,” said Ross. “Leadership from Kyle (Anderson) and Marvin (King-Davis) and Kory (Holden), those guys just rallied and settled down. It’s very, very important to do that.”
The decisive run was a study in the toughness of this team. It started with Cazmon Hayes going on a personal 7-0 run, basically willing them into the lead, but that was just the beginning. They got a block, then a quick layup at the other end. Next, a tough rebound in traffic, then Anderson hit a three-pointer. Later, after Northeastern scores and seems to get a bit of momentum back, Holden drove in and hit a tough shot with contact.
Suddenly they had a 49-42 lead, and Northeastern never got closer than three the rest of the way. The Blue Hens did enough to ward off the Huskies at every turn.
“I thought these guys did a marvelous, marvelous job of withstanding their run, and then putting together a run of our own,” said Ross.
Ross said confidence hasn’t flagged with this team, which has made his job easier. It would have been easy for that to be a problem early on during the losing streak, but this team kept going and believing in what the staff asked them to do. They have proven themselves to be dangerous, having knocked off William & Mary last month and also having nearly knocked off UNCW on the road before winning in Boston on Saturday.
The other helpful development has been, naturally, the return of Anderson after he missed the first seven games of the season. First, he took pressure off the younger players, but as the season has continued, they have taken pressure off him and allowed him to simply play. He continues to be a leader, but hasn’t pressed and hasn’t felt a need to do too much. With that, he’s playing better and so are others.
Several players have really come along for the Blue Hens, including Maurice Jeffers, who was 9-14 from the field on Saturday and unstoppable inside. But the player with the high ceiling already being approached is Holden, who is arguably the top freshman in the CAA (the Rookie of the Year award looks like it may well come down to him and Elon’s Elijah Bryant). The lefty guard has scored well all along while being thrust into the always-challenging point guard spot, but lately he’s doing more than just that. He’s also growing as a floor leader, and the team is the better for it.
The Blue Hens are not going to finish this year with a sterling record, and it will be tough to come away as conference champions. This team has only once won consecutive games all season, and like any young team there are going to be great moments along with humbling ones. They will have plenty of confidence when the CAA Tournament rolls around, however, from having knocked off two top teams. With all that they have overcome to this point, they will at least be a tough out. The stage will be set for a good finish and a better future. It’s a future one can only hope Ross will also be a part of.