Delaware Blue Coats come up short in overtime thriller against the Maine Celtics

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Chris Clarke drives inside. Clarke recorded 16 points and 15 rebounds against the Celtics. - Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. - Photo via Payton Tuorto

You could hear a pin drop at Chase Fieldhouse. 

With the score knotted up at 116, two points shy of the “first to seven” overtime target score, head coach Mike Longabardi drew up a play for what he thought would be the game-winner while 972 fans held their breath for what seemed like an eternity.

After receiving the inbound, Terquavion Smith had the ball at the top of the key and looked to get some separation from Chris Clarke’s screen, but failed to do so as a pair of Celtics’ defenders played up on the attempted screen, forcing Smith to pass the ball to Melvin Frazier, who sat at the right wing.

Now, Delaware’s hopes of a win were in the hands of the six-foot-five Frazier, who was in a one-on-one matchup with the seven-foot Kylor Kelley. After hitting Kelley with a crossover, Frazier drove to the rim and went up for the potential game-winning layup, but Kelley was able to recover in time and contest the shot enough to stop Frazier’s heroics.

Maine now sat with the advantage and would soon capitalize out of a timeout. The ball found itself in none other than DJ Steward’s hands, who had a career-high 34 points and was looking for his second heroic act of the night after hitting a contested left-handed floater to tie the game at 111 with 28 seconds left, ultimately sending it to OT. 

He would dribble the shot clock down to eight before launching a three that was too strong, but instead of Delaware obtaining possession, their biggest weakness of the night reared its ugly head in the worst moment. 

Celtics’ forward Drew Peterson came down with his seventh rebound of the night, and the team’s 54th, before kicking it out to Tony Snell, who sat wide open behind the right wing. This time, he’d make the Coats pay, knocking down the game-winning three and getting mobbed by his teammates at halfcourt as a result.

“If you don’t rebound the basketball, you’re going to lose, especially defensively,” Clarke said.

Rebounding was a problem across these two games against Maine for the undersized Blue Coats. They were outrebounded by 22 in the loss on Monday, and once again outrebounded tonight, albeit just by eight. 

The newly added Quinton Rose was the tallest guy in the Coats’ rotation on Wednesday at just six-foot-eight, while Clarke and Frazier, both standing at six-foot-five, played the five for Delaware. Both were very successful in the tall task of slowing down the Celtics, who had nine out of 11 guys at six-foot-five or taller, as they each grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds with 16 and 18 points respectively. 

“You can’t coach height,” Clarke said. “They got a few seven footers, our team’s real small…positioning wise I feel like we could have been better, maybe switching on the screens or myself dropping back quicker.”

Not only did the Celtics’ height allow them to outrebound the Coats, but it also helped them dominate the paint. Maine shot nearly 70 percent on shots inside the paint for 58 points, while Delaware shot just 52 percent on such shots, for a total of 50 points. The eight-point difference was still an improvement from the previous matchup.

“Our preparation was all about that,” Longabardi said. “It was just a point of emphasis. They have shot blocking in there, but we can still probe, generate, and then get cuts, or use shot fakes and I thought we did a better job with that tonight.”

The Blue Coats will look to bounce back on Friday, March 15, when the much smaller Birmingham Squadron visits Chase Fieldhouse for the first leg of a back-to-back. 

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