NEWARK, Del. - The Blue Hens opened 2019 the same way they ended 2018 - a thrilling two-point win over a conference foe.
After trailing by double figures for most of the game, University of Delaware battled back to take the lead in the final minutes and held on for a 58-56 win over The College of William & Mary, Thursday night.
It was the Blue Hens' first conference game at home this season. They're now a game above .500 in the Colonial Athletic Association, and snapped a six-game losing streak against the Tribe.
"They've been like kryptonite," Delaware head coach Martin Ingelsby said with a smile. "We haven't played very well here against them, so when we went down, we just tried to keep our guys positive. We talked about guarding in four-minute segments, and that we could get in a good offensive flow. It wasn't very pretty, but we just kept fighting and battling."
Though Delaware (10-6, 2-1 CAA) shot just 38.2 percent (21-for-55) from the floor, four players scored in double figures. Freshman Ithiel Thorton led the way with 15 points, and it was his free throws in the final minute that kept the Blue Hens in front. Eric Carter fought and clawed his way to 12 points, and added 13 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Ryan Allen and Darian Bryant each finished with 11 points, with Allen dishing out a team-high four assists.
Allen and Bryant factored heavily into Delaware's second-half comeback. Down 35-23, the Blue Hens stormed back with a 16-5 run to make it a one-point game, 40-39. The hosts drained four 3-pointers, including two from Allen.
Delaware cut the deficit to one two more times over the next few minutes, only to have William & Mary (6-9, 2-1) pull away. After a layup from Carter made it a one-point game yet again, 49-48, Bryant finally got the Blue Hens over the hump with a 3-pointer and a layup with 4:39 to go. It was their first lead since the opening minutes of the first half, and it's a lead they would not relinquish. Bryant scored nine of his 11 points in the second.
"Darian is the glue guy for us," Horton said. "He does all the tough stuff. He goes and gets rebounds, he'll get a charge for us and score for us and he plays good defense. That's what we need."
The Tribe made three free throws to cut it to 53-52, but Bryant made two of his own to make it 55-52 with 59 seconds left. Horton then took over, making 3 of 4 one-and-one bonus foul shots over the next 30 seconds, which were key because William & Mary hit back-to-back layups to stay right on Delaware's heels.
"I was terrified," Horton admitted with a smile. "I hold a lot of pressure on myself, so I just went up there and was like, 'Don't worry about it, you know this is what you can do. You're a shooter, and just knock em down.'"
After a Tribe layup, Allen missed both of his double-bonus free throws, giving William & Mary 20 seconds to try and win the game. The Tribe missed two off-balance 3-point attempts and then ran out of time.
In addition to their offensive heroics, the Blue Hens also forced eight turnovers in the second half while committing just three.
"We just kept talking about our defense, digging in and grinding," Ingelsby said. "We have a group that's really learning how to win, and they have great team chemistry. We've been in game situations and multiple overtime games. We don't win without that defensive effort."
William & Mary jumped out to a 17-5 lead in the first half, largely due to neutralizing Delaware's main inside threat. Carter consistently found himself double- and triple-teamed every time he touched the ball. Allen also missed a large chunk of the first half due to foul trouble.
Carter finally cracked the scoreboard with 5:46 to play in the half. He scored twice more during an 8-3 run that the Blue Hens used to make it a 28-21 game at halftime.
"It wasn't an easy night for us on the offensive end, and that's a testament to William & Mary," Ingelsby said. "They did a really good job of doubling Eric, and we just couldn't get into a flow. We got a real semblance of ourself in the second half."
Matt Milon scored a game-high 19 points for the Tribe, while Nathan Night added 12.
Delaware returns to action on Saturday with a 7 p.m. home game against Elon.