Delaware State dances with the big boys

After narrowly defeating Hampton 55-53 in the final seconds of the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference championship game on March 12, the Delaware State Hornets have earned their first ever NCAA tournament invitation.

The Hornets secured the 16th seed in the Austin regional bracket and will face the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils. All the experts have written this game off as an easy win for Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils, but the game isn’t being played on paper.

Anybody can win at any given time. It’s a matter of skill, determination and a little bit of luck at the right moment.

Friday, the Hornets face one of the country’s most prestigious basketball programs with the best talent. The Hornet’s will somehow have to slow down the nation’s best shooter, J.J. Redick, and out-rebound Duke’s trio of giant’s (Sheldon Williams, Shavlik Randolph and Patrick Johnson).

“Of course we have to pay attention to Redick, he’s their go-to man and we’re much smaller than they are. I’ll tell you that we’re going to make their size a liability to them and make their strength their weakness,” said Delaware State assistant coach Keith Walker.

Delaware State has only three players above 6’7”, as opposed to Duke’s trio of 6’9” giants. The Hornets will have to make space to pull down tough rebound like a certain Sir Charles “the round mound of rebound” Barkley used to — get good position and box out.

The Hornets will have more than the Krzyzewski squad to deal with this Friday as they head down to Charlotte — they must also deal with their crazy fans.

“This isn’t unfamiliar territory for us. Our guys play better against the top teams,” said Delaware State assistant head coach Arthur Tyson.

Even though this is the Hornet’s first trip to the NCAA tournament, it isn’t their first game versus top basketball programs. Delaware State lost tough games to Illinois, Michigan State, Marquette, Creighton and UTEP this season — all of which are tournament teams this year.

“When we played up at Illinois, there were 21,000 crazy fans screaming and yelling. We’re not worried about a few Cameron Crazies,” said Tyson.

“Our guard play will be very important for us if we are to win versus Duke,” said Tyson. Leading scorer sophomore guard/forward Jahsha Bluntt will need to take his game to a higher level in order to elevate his team past Duke. Bluntt and Redick both shoot 41 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter defense should be very important to either team.

Bluntt was the MEAC tournament MVP and scored a team-high 16 points in the championship game. With so little senior leadership on the team (four upperclassmen, compared to 12 underclassmen), the Hornets will have to rely on emotion and hustle to slay the giant.

“We believe and right now that is all that matters,” said Tyson.