Guru's Note: (This post was assembled in the middle of the night going into sunrise Friday. The Delaware web site says Delle Donne is expected to play Sunday. An update here will come later Friday or earlier on the Guru's twitter account @womhoopsguru. Possibly Delaware will update as the day progresses.)
By Mel Greenberg
NEWARK, Del. – Delaware coach Tina Martin won’t have much trouble remembering the particulars of her 250th coaching win overall and with the Blue Hens that she reached Thursday night.
Cruising with a 10-point lead at halftime over Towson, Martin suddenly lost Elena Delle Donne, her star player who had already scored 18 points in the first 20 minutes, and one other starter in the dressing room but was able to land a 72-49 win over the Tigers on the way to Sunday’s mega-Colonial Athletic Association showdown at Drexel.
Meanwhile, Drexel, which has been anticipating a sellout at the 2,500-seat Daskalakis Athletic Center for Sunday’s game at noon, needed a near-career performance from senior Gabriela Marginean (41 points) and a career-effort from Kamile Nacickaite (27 points) to escape with a 91-84 victory in overtime at Northeastern in snowy Boston to stay in a three-way deadlock for first place in the conference. Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion also won.
Drexel had trailed by 10 points with five minutes left in regulation.
Adding to another night of CAA drama, Hofstra gave both Delaware and Drexel a bit of a helping hand by rallying for a 69-62 overtime victory at James Madison, the Pride’s first win in Harrisonburg, Va., since the 2003-04 season courtesy of Sam Brigham’s 19 points.
The result of the JMU loss was the Duchess (15-4, 5-3 CAA) fell into a tie for fourth with Delaware (13-6, 5-3), which has had its share of excruciating CAA setbacks, while Drexel (13-6, 7-1) now has a two-game cushion in terms of who will be the four teams with byes in the conference tournament in March.
Marginean, the all-time men’s and women’s scorer at Drexel finished close to her school record 47 points achieved in the famous 5-overtime victory at home against Northeastern (7-12, 2-6) set in 2006-07. For some reason, the Huskies and Dragons can never get things settled in regulation when they meet in the conference.
“Northeastern is a tough place to play,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon said going into Thursday night’s contest. “We’ll just take them one game at a time. Last year when we won the conference people said we had the easy (unbalanced) schedule. Well, we can only play what is given to us.
“This year it’s tougher so we’ll see how we work out.”
Drexel beat Delaware here at the Bob Carpenter Center two weeks ago 70-67 in double overtime in one of the better clashes of the season in the area.
A crowd of over 3,000, second highest in Delaware history, attended.
That total, the two schools’ geographical proximity and the first Philadelphia appearance by Delle Donne since playing for Fencor AAU, are some of the factors fueling Sunday’s contest, which will be televised on The Comcast Network.
Delaware Win: The View From Martin
We’re going to let the Blue Hens take you through the experience of Thursday’s night’s thriller off the court with a little here and there thrown in from press row.
The night got off the disruptive non-start when word arrived that Towson (9-10, 3-5) was stuck in traffic on I-95 outside of Baltimore near the Tigers’ campus because of an accident.
That delayed the start 45 minutes until about 7:45 with Delaware going through an extended warmup.
“We allowed Towson 50 minutes to warm up when they got here,” Martin said. “I think the rules call for 30 but we gave them some extra time. Things happen and you move on.”
Delaware was already going through roster depletions before the start of the game. Tesia Harris, a three-point threat, was sidelined a second game because of an ankle injury. Earlier Thursday, the Blue Hens announced senior guard Corinthia Benison had left to concentrate on academics.
That came a day after saying junior guard Vanessa Kabongo was lost for the season after being sidelined since Dec. 11th with a knee injury.
Delle Donne, the national high school player of the year two seasons ago out of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy, had already missed her fourth and fifth games of her career as a redshirt-freshmen because of an ankle injury.
But since then, following a year away from basketball to play volleyball after she enrolled at Delaware, Delle Donne has come back into form and entered Thursday’s contest with A 25.9 scoring average, second in the nation.
She scored Delaware’s first six points, got caught in a little of Towson’s traffic and then broke out the rest of the half finishing with 18 points, while also dealing a spectacular no-look pass.
“She was playing great,” Delle Donne’s father Ernie said after the game awaiting a report on the injury. “She really wanted to use this game to prepare for Drexel.”
When the second half got under way, Delle Donne was nowhere to be seen.
An inquiry brought a report from Delaware to press row she had an undetermined injury on her right elbow. Delle Donne returned to the bench with 7:27 left in the contest, her right elbow taped up and she didn’t appear to be in any pain.
Martin didn’t make her available to the media afterwards, wanting Delle Donne to get examined more extensively by the team doctor. Also lost at halftime was starter Eva Riddick, who spent halftime throwing up in the bathroom.
Martin then went to Ariene Jenkins, who had been in Martin’s doghouse, and the player responded with 10 points. Delaware got off to a quick start in the second half so the missing players were not urgently needed. Danielle Parker and Jocelyn Bailey also finished with 10 points, each, while Lauren Carra scored 14 to add to the balance of five players in double figures.
“I’ve never been in that kind of situation before, but we rallied around each other, we brought each other together and we pulled out the win,” Carra said.
Kandace David had 12 points for Towson.
All that said, Martin offered her view after telling radio it was the first time she spent a half not knowing who was going to be in the game.
“Coach Malcolm said, `Same lineup?’ I said, “No.!!” Martin said.
Martin was then asked to take the print media through it all beginning with Delle Donne’s injury.
“Somebody hit her elbow,” Martin said. “She’s not sure if it was on the play where she got fouled, she said either she hit somebody’s shoulder or somebody hit her but she didn’t have any feeling in her hand.
“They don’t think it’s a bone thing. They think it’s a nerve thing. You know how you get hit on your funny bone and all of a sudden your arm just goes dead? That’s basically what happened,” Martin said.
“She wasn’t getting it back right away and obviously it’s scary when that kind of thing happens. But she is starting to get some feeling back now. Certainly I wasn’t going to put her back in the game regardless if we were going to win or lose.
“The trainer said to us, `Elena has some feeling.’ Elena said, `I could probably shoot with my left hand.’ And I said, `Elena, you sit right here. We have a lead and we’re not going to risk it right now.’ And so I’m hoping the feeling continues to come back to her hand and to her arm.
“She can move her arm. She can have some feeling but she doesn’t have any strength yet. It’s a nerve issue right now, that’s what we think it is right now. But I’m not a doctor. Hopefully as the hours pass, the feeling is going to come back to her hand and to her elbow and she’s going to be able to move it and that type of thing,” Martin explained.
“She came in at the half, she said, `Coach I don’t have any feeling in my hand right now. I don’t have any strength.’ She said, `It’s really weird. Like my arm just went dead.’
``And I said, `OK, go see the trainer.’ “She immediately went into the training room and then I went into the locker room to talk to the kids and the next thing I know, Eva Riddick is sick and she’s throwing up in the bathroom.”
“So I’m like, `OK, two starters down. What it world is going to happen the rest of this halftime.’
“So then the trainers came in with Elena. There were three minutes left and I went over to the trainers and said, `How is it?’ She said, `I still don’t have any feeling back. I can start to squeeze it. But I don’t feel it.’
“I said, `OK, you’re obviously not starting the second half.’ So I came out knowing she’s not starting and Eva’s still in the rest room and Jenkins went in to check on her. She came back and said, `She’s still sick.’
“And I said, `OK, you’re in. Lauren Carra, you’re in.’ Obviously, the huddle was a little bit frantic at that point and obviously I was changing starters on the fly. So we started the second half with our other kids. Obviously Elena came back and I wasn’t going to put her in because we had the lead."
Jenkins said of getting the call, her recaction was “Shock and surprised. Nervous. I was kind of I really didn’t know what to do at first. I had to get myself together and then, I don’t know.’”
Delle Donne was back on the bench late in the game.
“The first thing I asked her was, `Are you getting any feeling back?’” Martin related. “She said, `It’s starting to come back but it’s still not 100 percent. If I needed to shoot with my left hand, I could. If I needed to catch the ball, I could. But right now I still don’t have full feeling. I don’t have full strength.’
“And I said, `Sit right there’ because even if it was, I wasn’t putting her back in. It’s not worth risking her career. We need her to see the doctor. We need to see everything is OK. We need to see that it’s kind of like a stinger (in football). Hopefully that’s all that it is.’
"Credit to Ariene. She stepped up. I won't lie. Obviously we’ve had our differences, but she stepped up for her teammates and stepped up for the team tonight, which was really good to see.
“The rest of the team stepped up as well.
“Obviously, now I’m hoping everybody is back and healthy for what should be a heck of a game at Drexel.
“When people go down, it’s nice to see people rally around each other. And that’s team basketball. And the team sensed we had a sense of urgency to play team basketball.”
As for her milestone win, Martin tossed the ball to the people who have been around her. “The biggest thing with that is the players and the coaches. My assistant coaches do a great job and I’ve had a lot of great players. It’s more their accomplishments than mine.”