NEWARK — Less than eight minutes into Saturday’s game, it was pretty clear that Dylan Painter was going to be a problem for Elon.
First, the Delaware big man scored six of the Blue Hens’ opening 11 points.
Then, when the Phoenix tried to double-team him in the low post, Painter simply got the ball to freshman Jyare Davis for three straight easy baskets.
So, when it was all said and done, it was hardly a surprise that Painter was the biggest reason Delaware held off Elon 80-77 in CAA men’s basketball at the Carpenter Center on Saturday afternoon.
Painter finished with a game-high 23 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and the three assists as the Blue Hens (5-2 CAA, 14-6) won their third game in a row.
“We knew we wanted to go inside early,” said the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Painter. “And it was there early. When they would come down (to double team), I would pass it out to somebody else.
“We have so many scoring options. ... if you want to double us, somebody else is going to get you. It’s so fun to play with this team.”
A total of four players scored in double figures for Delaware, including Ryan Allen (13), Kevin Anderson (11) and Ebby Asamoah (10). The Hens shot 52.1% (25-of-48) for the game as they scored at least 80 points for the fourth time in the past five contests.
“Dylan Painter, what can you say about him?” said Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby. “He’s just such a huge factor for us at both ends of the floor. ... Every time we go into a game, our ability to execute is dependent on getting Dylan Painter the basketball.”
After going up by as many as 18 points in the first half, it was the second straight game in which the Hens never trailed.
That was the good news for Delaware. The frustrating news for the Hens is that, once again, they frittered away a double-digit lead to squirm through another tight finish.
Elon (2-5 CAA, 5-15 overall), which trailed 73-60 with four minutes left, drew as close as 78-75 on a Torrence Watson three-pointer with 11 seconds left.
Delaware needed Anderson to sink a pair of free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining to give it a more comfortable 80-75 lead. Darius Burford (19 points) hit a shot at the buzzer to account for the final score.
“We have to figure out how to stay focused when we have a lead,” said Ingelsby. “And continue to do what did to establish that lead. But we found a way to get it done.”
The other good thing for Delaware was that it got to use a few more of its reserves on Saturday.
All nine players who got on the court for the Hens scored in the contest. Considering Delaware plays its third game in five days on Monday, the Hens’ core group can use some rest.
The Hens host Towson on Monday at 7 p.m. with the two teams tied for second place in the CAA. Delaware didn’t face the rival Tigers last winter because of COVID postponements.
“It’s time to go now so we’re excited,” said Painter. “It’s good to be back. Last year felt weird. Now all the games feel like they mean something.”
Ingelsby said it’d be nice to see some more people in the stands on Monday night. Between the university being in winter session and the current state of the COVID pandemic, the Hens have been playing in front of a lot of empty seats lately.
“This group is hungry,” said Ingelsby. “My hope would be, now that we have a nice little run, that Monday night we get a good crowd in here. This group deserves it, they need it.”
Delaware had 11 first-half assists but only two more in the second half for a total of 13. The Hens also had 13 turnovers. ... Elon’s center, Michael Graham, finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Watson had a team-high 20 points ... Anderson had a team-high five assists to give him 28 in the last four games. The senior guard also scored his 1,200th career point. ... Delaware has won five in a row and eight of its last nine games with Elon.