NEWARK — Kendall Gray has always believed he could hit a 15-foot jumper.
It’s just that the basketball didn’t always cooperate.
But now, with that shot starting to fall consistently for the 6-foot-10 Delaware State senior, it’s getting more and more difficult for anybody to stop him.
Gray proved that again on Sunday afternoon when he netted a career-high 21 points to go along with 12 rebounds as Delaware State rolled to a 66-53 victory over in-state rival Delaware in the Carpenter Center.
While the winless Blue Hens (0-7) still lead the all-time series 11-4, the Hornets (4-4) have now won two of the last three meetings. Delaware never led in the contest, which DSU led by as many as 19 points midway through the second half.
The 13-point margin was also the largest of the Hornets’ four victories in the series.
Gray made a big difference in the middle for DSU. First-year coach Keith Walker said the Polytech High grad is still only starting to show what he can do.
“The one thing that I expect from him is to be able to produce a double-double every game he plays,” said Walker. “He has that ability. I tell everybody that I talk to that we have a 6-10 athlete ... and he has not yet even reached his potential.
“But he’s come into his owm. He’s understanding himself a little better — what he can do, what he can’t do. ... He’s nowhere what he can be and he’s not doing anywhere near what he can do.”
“It’s my senior year,” said Gray, a Dover native. “There’s no turning around, no going back. I just made sure I did what Coach Walker wanted me to do to help myself and my teammates succeed.
“This is what I worked on all summer,” Gray said about his shooting range. “I’ve got to hit the 15-foot jumper and that’s going to open up a lot more things for me in the post.”
Fittingly, Gray drained a jumper on the Hornets’ first possession to give DelState the lead for good. He went on to hit 9-of-14 shots from the floor along with blocking a pair of shots.
With Amere May adding 10 points and Tyshawn Bell (Caesar Rodney) collecting nine points and eight rebounds, the Hornets opened up a 26-16 advantage with 5:20 left in the first half. The Hens got back within six only to have DSU stretch its lead back to 32-21 at halftime.
“I think they have some guys who are really talented,” said Delaware coach Monte’ Ross. “It starts with Kendall Gray. He’s a walking double-double. That’s a tremendous, tremendous luxury to have.”
DelState didn’t seem to show any jetlag from its trip to Hawaii earlier in the week.
“I tell our players all the time that we’re going to have some adverse situations,” said Walker. “The other team doesn’t care how tired you are. The other team doesn’t care how long it took you to go wherever you have to go. You have to be able to handle those situations and be able to perform out on the floor.”
“It felt like we were in the NBA the way we were travelling,” joked Gray.
As the Hornets maintained their comfortable lead through the second half, the young Hens were able to make one solid run in the closing 10 minutes. When freshman Chivasky Corbett (15 points) made back-to-back three-pointers, Delaware had climbed back within 53-41 with 7:34 still left.
A three from freshman Kory Holden (15 points) then got the Hornets’ lead down to 53-44 with 6:12 remaining but Delaware never got any closer.
Really, DelState topped the Hens in two major categories. The Hornets held a 45-34 edge in rebounds and shot 23-of-54 (42.6 percent) from the floor while Delaware was 17-of-56 (30.4 percent).
Ross, whose lineup is made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores right now, said he was proud of his players’ effort.
“I thought the team could have packed it in when we got down 19 but I was very pleased that they kept going,” said Ross. “We kept fighting and we kept fighting. ... That’s what we ask these guys to do and that’s what they did.”
The road team has won the last four games in this series. ... The Hornets and Hens combined to sink just 10-of-45 three-point attempts. ... DeAndre Haywood had a game-high five assists for DSU. ... Maurice Jeffers had a game-high three blocks for Delaware. ... DelState hosts Campbell on Wednesday at 7 p.m., With final exams this week, Delaware doesn’t play again until Dec. 18 when it hosts Temple.
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.