Great Expectations

by Raymond Curren


Thursday, February 14, 2013 (Season 9)


Game #9-391: Delaware Blue Hens at Northeastern Huskies

February 13, 2013 7:00 pm
Matthews Arena


"When one's expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have."
- Stephen Hawking

BOSTON - Like pretty much everything in life, dealing with expectations means a balancing act, the scales needing to be constantly moved and pushed into the correct place to deal with the situation at hand.

Should the expectations be set too high, they may become nearly impossible to reach, ending in frustration even with your best effort.

Should the bar be pushed lower than it needed to be, things could be too simple, meaning that you never need to push yourself to the maximum level of distress, and you may never know what your top height could have been.

__

In fitting with my journeyman existence (I was recently even called that in a newspaper article), I noticed one summer that a local American Legion baseball had only one coach, and he looked overwhelmed. I offered my help. He accepted. And so I spent four summers coaching baseball (I did play in high school, and still get dragged into the Over-30 league a few times a summer).

By the third season, we actually had a very good team. To be fair, better than that. Two kids that would end up getting drafted joined the squad, and a third probably should have been. We had a perfect ace pitcher who probably couldn't break the speed limit with his fastball, but he walked two batters all summer, and our speedy outfield did the rest in a home park that had no fence.

When the newspaper called to do a preview and predict the league standings, we did our best to downplay our squad. Two of the three players went to boarding school so were unknowns to the local papers. There was no reason for them to suspect we were going to be good; we hadn't won a league title in two decades.

When the preview came out, we were picked fifth. And went on to win the league by two games.

For those on the outside, it was a tremendous upset, an example of what hard work, togetherness, and a little luck could accomplish. The head coach got Coach of the Year, and was honored at the state banquet.

The dark truth is still not known to any except the most ardent sleuths: We had the most talent all along.

__



Heading to Northeastern's Matthews Arena Wednesday night, I expected nothing. Well, that's not true entirely. I expected a traffic nightmare at rush hour in Boston. I planned on paying good money for a parking spot that would take two laps around the area to find. And I thought I would see an empty lifeless hockey arena for a battle of the top two teams in the Colonial Athletic Conference.

And I did get some of that. But rush-hour traffic wasn't too bad. Northeastern directed me via their website to a parking lot that was surprisingly easy to get into, and shockingly free.

The arena was mostly empty (attendance was announced at 1,399 with capacity about 8,000 if they really wanted to pack the place), and it was most certainly a hockey-first building these days (opened in 1910 at Boston Arena, one of its first big events was a Roosevelt Presidential rally; Teddy not Franklin).



However, although they were oddly placed at center court and not behind the basket, there was a vocal student section that was in the game from start to finish. And I've seen far worse atmospheres this season. I don't mean to make excuses, but as my friend pointed out, "There are just so many things to do in Boston. And it's not like Delaware is Duke or something."

(As the game went to overtime later, the student section actually went sans shirt. Well, some of them.)



That kind of statement might make you cringe around here, but it's unfortunately the truth. In places like Murray, Ky. and Lewisburg, Penn., the basketball team is one of the top outlets for entertainment in the winter. In downtown Boston, not so much.

So the atmosphere exceeded my expectations. Even if they weren't much to begin with.

__

Delaware knows a little about meeting expectations. After a few years of mediocrity, the Blue Hens were picked second in the CAA preseason poll, boasting a pair of first-team selections in senior Jamelle Hagins and junior Devon Saddler.

They upset Virginia in Charlottesville to advance to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, and in the process got the notice of the national media. Delaware nearly knocked off Kansas State, and were put on everyone's list of mid-major teams to watch. But once expectations grew, performance didn't rise at the same rate.

By the time Delaware arrived in Boston, it had 12 losses and was barely above .500. In most seasons, that would be fine, they were still second in the CAA with an 8-4 mark, but oh those expectations. The Blue Hens were three games behind the surprising league-leader.

That leader was Northeastern, of course, who was just starting to get the attention of the national media with a 12-1 conference mark after being fifth in the preseason poll.

__



In fact, the Huskies could clinch the regular season title with a win Wednesday, which is especially important this season, because with only seven teams competing in the postseason tournament, the top seed needs to win only two games in Richmond to go to the NCAA Tournament, a place neither of these teams have been in a long time (Northeastern - 1991; Delaware - 1999).

One thing that did meet my expectations was the competitiveness of the game. Northeastern would play without leading scorer Joel Smith (ankle), and Delaware - led by Hagins and Saddler took advantage early, holding the lead for most of the first half before going to the locker room up 34-30.

The game got extremely physical in the second half, with both coaches pleading to the officials, and the students roaring with every seemingly controversial call that could have gone either way.

Of course, with neither team having more than a three-point lead in the final 18 minutes, the expectation was that Northeastern would win the game. Eleven of the Huskies' 12 conference wins on their way to a 12-1 mark had been by 11 points or less, three of them coming in overtime. And true to form, senior point guard Jonathan Lee scored to give Northeastern the lead, and when Saddler tied it with a free throw, found a wide open Zach Stahl under the basket for a layup to give Northeastern a 67-65 lead with 34 seconds left.

But Saddler, who had a couple of hideous airballs on superhoops - including one a minute earlier - hit a leaner to tie the game again with 13 seconds left. Everyone expected Lee to do something to send us home in regulation, but Saddler stripped him and nearly hit the second 55-footer to win the game I had seen in the CAA this season, but the ball hit the front of the rim and bounced away.

Hmmm.



No matter, Lee and Northeastern quickly had a five-point lead (their biggest of the entire night) in overtime and that would be that.

But again, Delaware answered back, getting four straight points, and forcing another Lee turnover. With the shot clock running down, Jarvis Threatt drilled a 25-footer and the Blue Hens had a stunning 76-74 lead with 13 seconds left.

Bill Coen, who has virtually wrapped up CAA Coach of the Year and may get more recognition if Northeastern can be a pest in the NCAA Tournament, out-thought himself, originally trying to get Lee to go without a time out, but finally calling one with 4.0 seconds left. He then called a complicated play that involved three passes, the third one eventually being deflected out of bounds with 0.5 seconds left. A feeble attempt after that never even drew iron, and Delaware had made a statement with its biggest win since November.

So much for expectations. Or maybe that should have been what we thought would happen all along.



DELAWARE 76, at NORTHEASTERN 74
02/13/2013


DELAWARE 14-12 (9-4) -- J. Threatt 5-11 8-10 20; J. Hagins 7-8 3-4 17; D. Saddler 7-17 2-3 18; K. Anderson 4-12 0-0 9; C. Baptiste 2-3 1-1 5; J. Brinkley 1-2 1-4 3; M. King-Davis 2-3 0-0 4; L. Savage 0-2 0-2 0. Totals 28-58 15-24 76.
NORTHEASTERN 17-9 (12-2) -- J. Lee 7-15 7-9 23; Q. Ford 6-18 6-6 21; D. Pollard 1-8 2-2 5; D. Walker 3-6 0-0 8; Z. Stahl 3-6 0-0 7; R. Spencer 3-6 2-3 8; M. Banegas-Flores 0-0 0-0 0; D. Marshavelski 1-1 0-0 2; D. Peck 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-60 17-20 74.

Three-point goals: DEL 5-17 (D. Saddler 2-7; J. Threatt 2-3; K. Anderson 1-7), NU 9-25 (J. Lee 2-6; D. Pollard 1-6; Q. Ford 3-8; Z. Stahl 1-2; D. Walker 2-3); Rebounds: DEL 38 (J. Hagins 9), NU 28 (J. Lee 6); Assists: DEL 9 (D. Saddler 3), NU 15 (D. Pollard 4); Total Fouls -- DEL 17, NU 18; Fouled Out: DEL-None; NU-R. Spencer.



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