Delaware Blue Coats plagued by slow start in second leg of back-to-back against Birmingham Squadron

Chris Clarke at the free-throw line. The 28-year-old scored 17 points and dished out six assists off the bench in Saturday's loss. - Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 - Photo via Payton Tuorto

On Saturday, March 16, the Delaware Blue Coats were unable to fully conquer their mini-series against the Birmingham Squadron, losing the second leg of the back-to-back by a final score of 115-111.

For the second consecutive night, the Coats were plagued by a slow start in the first quarter.

“We’ve got to understand the game starts at 6:00, not at 6:45,” head coach Mike Longabardi said. “We spotted them 35-24 to start the first quarter, then it’s an uphill battle the whole way. You can’t do that all the time.”

Although the Coats were in a rut to start the game, they began slowly pulling themselves out of it as the contest progressed. Delaware outscored Birmingham by seven in the second and third quarters combined and came close to securing a second straight comeback victory, but could not finish the job in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.

Although Chris Clarke felt some more resistance from the Squadron in the second half compared to Friday’s game, he felt the team let one slip away.

“To be honest, I feel like we let that one go. We should’ve made a few more adjustments,” said Clarke, who tallied 17 points and six assists off the bench. “A few calls and a few more shots go our way, I feel like we would’ve done what we did yesterday, made a little comeback.”

After scoring 26 points on Friday, Terquavion Smith was limited to just five minutes off the bench in the first half on Saturday due to foul trouble, a development that changed the complexion of the game.

“I wanted to kind of stay with what we had, he’s just gotta be better. We can’t foul,” Longabardi said. “He put himself in that situation.”

Another roadblock for the Coats was the departure of newly-acquired Kai Jones after just 17 minutes of action. Jones was diagnosed with a hamstring strain, and his absence proved costly for the Coats in the second half.

“They’re looking at him now. I don’t have the final word, we’ve got to see what they say,” Longabardi said. “I think he’s gonna be okay, but we just don’t know. I don’t have those answers.”

If Jones is forced to miss an extended period of time, it would throw a wrench in the progress he’s made in the two games he’s played since signing a 10-day contract with the 76ers. Not only that, but Delaware would also be losing its size and strength which they were beginning to use to their advantage.

“Lob threat, rim protector,” Clarke said. “I can tell he’s still trying to get his feet wet with us; new team, new situation. And then for us, I think we need a better feel for him. There were too many times where he’ll set a screen and roll to the basket and we’re not hitting him. That’s on us, if we get that, we’ll be hard to beat.”

After scoring 23 and 21 points, respectively, on Friday, Ricky Council IV and Jeff Downtin Jr. were with the 76ers on Saturday fulfilling the other commitment of their two-way contracts. Longabardi knows this could be a consistent reality, as Terquavion Smith is also on a two-way deal, but his confidence in the team doesn’t waver no matter who takes the floor.

“Every game is the same, next-man-up mentality,” Longabardi said. “This has been a resilient group; I trust each and every one of them. I’ll put them in any position, and I feel like they’ll be successful.”

Up next for the Blue Coats is a matchup with the Indiana Mad Ants, a game that will kick off a two-game road-stand. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

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