Delaware Stuns Georgetown in NCAA Tournament First-Round Finale


Delaware's JP Ward attacks the goal as Georgetown's James Donaldson defends. Ward's goal with 8.8 seconds left gave the Blue Hens a 10-9 win over the second-seeded Hoyas.

WASHINGTON — A trip to No. 2 seed Georgetown on short rest didn’t bother Delaware much. Neither did a two-goal deficit late in the final five minutes of Sunday’s game to cap the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Blue Hens looked like they belonged — at the start, for sure, and definitely at the end — as they engineered a 10-9 upset of the Hoyas to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.

JP Ward zipped in the winning goal with 8.8 seconds left to seal the victory for Delaware, which will meet seventh-seeded Cornell in Sunday’s quarterfinals in Columbus, Ohio.

“We just had a history-making win,” said Blue Hens goalie Matt Kilkeary, who made 14 saves. “Hopefully, now we’re on the map and people don’t take us lightly.”

It was a rare moment, though not an unprecedented one. Delaware became the fifth team to topple a No. 2 seed in the first round since the NCAA tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003. Virginia (2007), Syracuse (2010 and 2014) and Denver (2016) were the previous highly regarded teams sent packing so early.

Delaware had pulled the first of those upsets 15 years ago, a 14-8 rout that was hardly in doubt. This one was a bit more harrowing, especially after Georgetown (15-2) erased an early three-goal hole and built a 9-7 lead on Connor Morin’s goal with 4:39 left.

“A big piece of our plan and what we’ve been doing over the course of the season, particularly the past couple weeks, has been belief,” Delaware coach Ben DeLuca said. “Belief in what we’re doing, belief in themselves, belief in our team, belief in our process. It was a major ingredient to what we needed to have coming into tonight, and our guys showed that. Without a doubt, never wavered.”

Graham Bundy Jr. scored three goals for the Hoyas, whose 11-game winning streak ended in jarring fashion.

Georgetown coach Kevin Warne said he was concerned coming out of the Big East tournament with how his team finished its 14-12 victory over Villanova as a six-goal advantage was narrowed in the closing minutes. Delaware, meanwhile, had rolled to a pair of victories in the CAA tournament before pounding Robert Morris 20-8 in a Wednesday play-in game.

And while the Blue Hens were plenty opportunistic, Georgetown never really found its footing. The Hoyas were held to fewer than 10 goals for just the second time all season (the other being a 10-8 loss to Princeton on March 5) and could never take advantage of Delaware’s decision to utilize a short stick to defend leading scorer Dylan Watson, who was held without a goal on five shots.

“It’s playoff lacrosse,” Warne said. “Everybody’s good. You have to respect winning, because winning will be taken away from you in a second if you don’t respect it and how you’re able to get there. They were the better team tonight and they beat us.”

The Hoyas often felt comfortable in frenetic situations all season, and Delaware never allowed the game to get too unsettled. Georgetown had a four-goal run in the first half to take a 5-4 lead, but never again put together one of its trademark spurts to create separation.

“It was really important,” DeLuca said. “I’m proud of our guys for how they managed it because that is an explosive team that is hyperathletic and hyper-skilled. Our guys have been playing strong for a while now. We played far from perfect as well, but we capitalized when we needed to.”

Instead, it was Delaware that provided a burst when it was required. Drew Lenkaitis and Tye Kurtz scored on consecutive possessions to knot it at 9 with 2:13 to go, and TJ Haley’s pass sailed clear of Morin with 1:13 to go to hand the ball back to the Blue Hens.

They cleared it and called timeout with 1:04 remaining and were clearly content to play for the last shot. Lenkaitis waited to initiate the final play until 16 seconds remained, and he fired a pass from behind the cage to Ward, who scored his 40th goal of the season to win it.

Delaware will play in the quarterfinals for only the fourth time. It lost in 1984 and 1999, then built off its upset of Virginia with a 10-6 defeat of unseeded UMBC in 2007 to earn its only trip to date to Memorial Day weekend.

“You can hear all the alumni up in the crowd,” Kurtz said. “It’s not just the guys on the field today. Everyone who has been through this program [has been] building it the way we want the program built.”

In addition to absorbing what was easily the stunner of the weekend, Georgetown joined an unwanted group of No. 2 seeds in making an early exit.

The 2007 Virginia, 2010 Syracuse and 2016 Denver teams were all bounced unceremoniously while beginning attempted title defenses. The 2014 Syracuse team played in the national title game a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Georgetown was in the new position as the hunted after gradually building up over the last five seasons. The Hoyas were surprise winners of the Big East in 2018 and 2019, and last year pounded Syracuse in the first round as a No. 5 seed before falling to fourth-seeded Virginia.

“We had good effort,” Warne said. “I don’t think we played very smart. That’s what it really came down to.”

The effort was never in question for Delaware, either, which isn’t a surprise for anyone who remembers DeLuca’s teams at Cornell. He was fired in November 2013 from the Ivy League school, and now the Big Red stands between the Blue Hens and a semifinal berth.

DeLuca would only smile when the coincidence was mentioned, noting he felt great and how he was grateful for his team to advance and have another week together.

It’s difficult to believe many would have guessed that would have happened merely a week ago, let alone when Delaware fell to 6-5 on April 9 with its third loss in a row.

“It’s been a long journey,” Kilkeary said. “I’d say we’re one of the hottest teams in the country right now.”

Most importantly, they’re one of eight teams still playing. And based on Sunday’s showing, the Blue Hens belong on the bigger stage they’ve earned for themselves over the last two weeks.


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