L.J. Owens was recruited to play basketball at Delaware twice and went elsewhere.
On their third try, Delaware coaches convinced Owens to come as a graduate transfer this year, and the 6-foot-3 guard’s contributions continued to make a difference Wednesday night.
The Blue Hens had all they could handle in their intra-state duel with Delaware State. The game, Delaware players would say later, had the feel of a conference matchup because of the determination and intensity being put forth.
But Delaware, which trailed by three at halftime and by five with 15½ minutes left, took charge down the stretch for a 77-69 win in front of 2,260.
The Blue Hens now lead 17-5 in the series.
“We made the plays we needed to win,” said Martin Ingelsby, who won his 100th game as UD coach and received postgame video congratulations from his former Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who won 99 at Delaware from 1995-2000.
Jameer Nelson Jr., had much to do with that, scoring 26 points and earning game MVP honors while heeding Ingelsby’s halftime charge to lead better from his point-guard spot.
Owens equaled the career-high 21 points he’d scored as a UMBC player, highlighted by 5-for-7 aim on 3-pointers.
“It’s definitely super valuable to have him,” Nelson said of Owens. “I don’t think I’ve known anybody as crafty. He can shoot from any angle, off balance. It’s just great to have a guy like that.”
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Owens played as a freshman at CAA rival William & Mary before moving to UMBC, where he was third-team All-America East last year. For each of those teams, he played games at Delaware.
“I’m getting comfortable game by game,” said Owens, who has scored in double figures six straight games.
It was familiarity with the coaching staff, which had wooed him initially out of the Severn School in Annapolis, Maryland, that led him to Delaware.
“He kept us in the game and I think he’s getting comfortable as that third scorer behind those two guys [Nelson and Jyare Davis],” Ingelsby said, “and we need him to continue to open things up and stretch the floor.''
Delaware improved to 5-4.
Delaware State (1-8) is in its second season under Stan Waterman, the former Blue Hens point guard who was hired in June of 2021 after 30 seasons at Sanford School, which he steered to eight state titles. The Hornets were 2-25 last year and winless in the MEAC, losing 10 games by single digits.
Waterman feels he has a much-improved roster this year and it showed Wednesday.
“We had a nice game plan in the first half and we executed our game plan pretty well,” Waterman said. “I think the difference was down the stretch they executed much better, made some adjustments and got the shots they wanted and we didn’t execute as well.
“But we’re learning, we’re getting better, we’re growing. It’s not showing in terms of wins right now . . . We’re trying to prepare them for the MEAC.”
Former Sanford guard Corey Perkins led the Hornets with 18 points.
Davis, the former Sanford All-Stater for Waterman, had 11 points and a game-high six assists for Delaware as he was subject to double-teaming. Christian Ray supplied 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Hens.
“That’s a testament to Stan and to DelState,” Ingelsby said of the close game. “They played hard, they played well, had us on our heels.”
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This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware Blue Hens Delaware State Hornets college basketball