DAYTON, Ohio -- As the players on the Delaware basketball team left the court yesterday at the University of Dayton Arena, junior guard Ricky Deadwyler looked right into a television camera following their exit.
"We'll be back," Deadwyler said. "We'll be back."
It might become next season's battle cry for the Fightin' Blue Hens, who saw their 20-game winning streak as well as their season end here with a disheartening, if not embarrassing, 85-47 defeat to fourth seed Cincinnati in the opening round of the NCAA Midwest Regional.
Delaware's dream of an upset in its first trip to the NCAA tournament was realistically over midway through the first half, when the Blue Hens succumbed to the in-your-jersey defense of the Bearcats. Cincinnati forced seven straight turnovers in a five-minute stretch and built their lead to 38-21 by halftime.
"I'm disappointed from the standpoint that we didn't play nearly as well as we're capable of playing," said Delaware coach Steve Steinwedel, whose team committed a school-record 33 turnovers. "I know we're a better team than we showed. Give Cincinnati credit, but I thought we caused a lot of problems for ourselves."
Even when Delaware (27-4) was able to get the ball past midcourt, Cincinnati (26-4) shut down the Blue Hens' inside game. Senior forward Alex Coles, who had 43 dunks this season, was forced outside and missed seven of eight shots. Spencer Dunkley, Delaware's 6-11 junior center, had a couple of dunk attempts blocked early and wasn't much of a factor thereafter.
"We were very confident going into the game, and we knew we had to play smart," said Coles, who after leading Delaware with nearly 15 points a game finished with just two yesterday. "But we didn't play smart and we didn't play well."
Meanwhile, the 12th-ranked Bearcats basically did what they pleased. Junior guard Nick Van Exel scored 18, to go along with a nine rebounds and six assists. Three others scored in double figures. Junior forward Anthony Wright led the Blue Hens with 15 points, while senior guard Mark Murray had 13.
"We're happy to get out with a win," said Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins, a good friend of Steinwedel's since their days together as assistants at West Virginia. "We felt like, going in, if we kept the pressure on them, the cumulative effect would be that we'd get our hands on a couple of balls and make a run."
A few dozen was more like it. Point guard Brian Pearl, a freshman from York, Pa., was left virtually to bring the ball upcourt by himself. But of Delaware's turnovers, only 11 were credited as steals for Cincinnati. The rest, in tennis terms, were unforced errors. Faux passes, so to speak.
"We pretty much were under a lot of [defensive] pressure, and we usually passed too soon," said Murray, who accounted for eight of his team's turnovers. "We tried to pass it to the first blue jersey we saw."
Said Pearl: "We wanted to prove we could play against major-college competition, but we didn't. For me, this takes away from the season. For the team, I know we're all
After falling behind by 19 early in the second half, Delaware got its deficit down to 53-42 on a fastbreak layup by Murray with 9:01 remaining. The Blue Hens had a brief glimmer when Terry Nelson missed for the Bearcats, but Van Exel was fouled and made two free throws to start a 16-1 run.
"If we could have gotten a couple of stops after we cut it to 11, it could have been interesting, but we couldn't stop them," said Steinwedel, who played his high school ball 50 miles away in Cincinnati.
The victory gave the Bearcats, who were making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1977, a second-round date Sunday with Michigan State. The Spartans, who beat Cincinnati by one point this year and by two last year, earlier defeated Southwest Missouri State, 61-54.
"We're looking forward to playing them," said Cincinnati guard Anthony Buford. "It's time we show the media and the whole country that we can beat a Big Ten team, especially Michigan State. Most people are picking Michigan State to play Kansas [in the regional semifinals at Kansas City]. That's a snub for us."
Not many had expected Delaware to beat the Bearcats. But not many of the Blue Hens and the fans who followed them here expected what happened, either. For one day, at least, they were more invitin' than fightin.' And that frustrated backup center Denard Montgomery, a senior from Glen Burnie.
As he sat in the hallway outside the team's dressing room after the game, Montgomery talked of the big dreams he and his teammates had coming to their first NCAA tournament. Those dreams were rudely interrupted by a very good team.
"We wanted to come here and do some damage," Montgomery said.
Delaware did plenty of damage at the University of Dayton Arena.