A year ago, Delaware lost to James Madison by one point in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals after a shot from Aberdeen native Devon Saddler clanked off the rim in the game's final second, ending Delaware's season.
On Saturday, in the Blue Hens' conference tournament semifinal matchup with Northeastern at Baltimore Arena, Saddler didn't miss when it counted most.
In the midst of a 36-15 run by Delaware that spanned the majority of the second half, Saddler hit three 3-pointers as the top-seeded Blue Hens routed the Huskies, 87-74, to earn the program's first ever trip to the CAA championship game.
Baltimore native Davon Usher (Digital Harbor) had 21 points to lead Delaware in scoring for the second time in as many days. Five Delaware players scored in double figures, including 16 from Saddler. Scott Eatherton had 20 points for Northeastern.
"Davon has been scoring the ball since he came out of the womb," Delaware coach Monte Ross said. "Saddler's been doing the same thing, he's probably been scoring since conception. Once these guys get going, I just pretty much stay out of the way."
Delaware is one win away from its first NCAA tournament berth since 1999. To reach that goal, the Blue Hens will have to beat William and Mary.
Early in the game, the Blue Hens nearly ran the Huskies off the court. Delaware led, 19-5, and forced Northeastern coach Bill Coen to call two timeouts. Eatherton, a second-team All-CAA selection, picked up two quick fouls for Northeastern, forcing Coen to sit his best player for the majority of the first half.
Then Northeastern went with the 3-2 zone, and it changed everything.
"We didn't have good movement," Ross said. "And I said to them at halftime, 'We haven't seen zone in a while.' It took us a little bit to get out legs under us."
As Delaware's offense struggled, the Huskies fought all the way back with a 19-5 run of their own, tying the game at 24. Northeastern continued their run and took a 30-26 lead with five minutes to play before halftime. But Delaware was resilient, coming back to take a two-point advantage on two free throws from point guard Jarvis Threatt with one second to play.
Just when it looked like Delaware had staved off Northeastern's big run, Eatherton responded.
Eatherton banked in a contested 3-pointer from the left wing to give Northeastern a lead to start the second half. Huskies guard Demetrius Pollard hit an uncontested layup on the Northeastern's next possession to start the half on a 5-0 run.
Usher responded with five straight points, giving Delaware a 44-42 lead, an advantage it didn't give up for the rest of the game. The Blue Hens shot 76 percent in the second half, enabling them to take a 22-point lead with under nine minutes to play.
"I wish I had four years here," Usher, a senior transfer from Mississippi Valley State, said after the game. "I'm just thankful that [Coach Ross} gave me an opportunity, trusted me and had confidence in me. If it wasn't for Devon Saddler, I wouldn't be sitting here right now."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun