ESTERO, Fla. — Think of this tournament as a dress rehearsal.
Delaware won’t even face the possibility of playing three games in three days again until the CAA tourney.
So while a Gulf Coast Showcase trophy isn’t the one the Blue Hens ultimately want to bring home, they’ll happily play for it with the hopes of bigger things to come.
Delaware will get the chance to play for the Gulf Coast title after dispatching Fordham, 81-71, in the tourney semifinals at Hertz Arena on Tuesday night.
The Blue Hens (4-1) will take on Oakland (4-2) in the finals on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The Michigan school downed Rice, 76-73, in its semifinal game on Tuesday.
“We came down here to get three wins,” Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby said on his post-game radio interview on the Blue Hen Network. “We’ve got two.”
Against Fordham, Delaware surrendered the first eight points in the contest before quickly recovering. The Hens took the lead for good when a pair of foul shots by Dylan Painter put Delaware ahead 15-13 with 12:40 left in the first half.
That advantage grew to as much as 12 points late in the first half. Delaware went up by as many as 16 points in the second half and never by fewer than eight.
Delaware sank 28-of-36 shots from the foul line, led by Painter who was 9-for-12.
“I’m proud of how our guys kept their composure,” said Painter. “We hit free throws down at the end and we were strong with the ball. ... It (shooting free throws) is just something that we rep every day. When it comes to the game, we know we can knock them down.”
Fordham (3-3) pressured the Hens literally until the final buzzer. While the Rams forced Delaware into 17 turnovers, the Hens also shot 60 percent (24-of-40) for the second straight night.
When Delaware shot 61 percent in a win over Appalachian State on Monday, it was the first time the Hens had hit 60 percent of their shots in 20 years.
Painter finished with a team-high 17 points as all eight players Delaware used in the game finished with at last five points.
Also pacing the Hens were Jameer Nelson, Jr. (15 points), Kevin Anderson (11), Ryan Allen (9) and Andrew Carr (9).
Ingelsby said the Hens have to do a better job of dealing with the kind of defensive pressure they saw from Fordham.
“We have to be better taking care of the basketball,” he said on his radio interview. “This is good for our team, it’s a reference point for us. We’ve got to do a better job of managing the game and not let their chaos speed us up and take us out of what we were doing.”