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Anderson proves to be the spark needed for Delaware’s success

Kyle Anderson, a junior on the University of Delaware men's basketball team, drives against Michigan State's Alvin Ellis III during an NCAA tournament game. Delaware lost the game 93-78; Anderson, a Newark native, scored 9 points.
Kyle Anderson, a junior on the University of Delaware men's basketball team, drives against Michigan State's Alvin Ellis III during an NCAA tournament game. Delaware lost the game 93-78; Anderson, a Newark native, scored 9 points.

Six days after the clock had struck midnight on the University of Delaware Blue Hens, Kyle Anderson admitted Wednesday morning that life was returning to normal.

With basketball season over, Anderson is back to the grind of classes and studying at UD’s Newark, Del. campus. Occasionally, he is stopped by a passer-by to talk about the season, or to receive congratulations, but the excitement that had enveloped the campus a week earlier largely has died down.

Whether Anderson’s own excitement has died down is another matter entirely.

“I mean, I may be riding it for the rest of my life,” said Anderson, a Newark (Ill.) High School graduate. “I knew I only had two years left to do it, so I had been getting a little worried it might never happen for me. Now that it has, I’ll never forget that buzz. ... We’ve come back to reality, but I don’t think I’ll ever get off that high.”

When Anderson entered the program before the 2011-12 season, the Blue Hens had had seven straight losing seasons. They went 18-14 that season and were selected to play in the College Basketball Invitational. In 2012-13, they improved to 19-14 overall and advanced to the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals for the first time since 2003.

Until this year, the Blue Hens never had advanced to the CAA finals. They entered the 2014 tournament as the top seed after going 14-2 in league play in the regular season. They rolled through the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney, defeating Hofstra, 87-76, and Northeastern, 87-74.

With an automatic NCAA bid on the line against third-seeded William & Mary in the final, Delaware was down 74-68 with 1:18 to play. The Blue Hens then scored the game’s final seven points to secure their first NCAA tournament berth since 1999.

“To win three games in three days, I don’t care which league you’re talking about, that’s really tough,” Anderson said. “Being down six with a minute to go – at that point, I was almost thinking it was over. Slowly, somehow, we found a way to come back.

“It felt so great. ... The night we won the championship, I must have had 75 texts and missed calls, plus a ton of Facebook notifications. I think I have heard from every single person in the town of Newark.”

The NCAA title game was played March 10. Selection Sunday, when the Blue Hens were to find out who, when and where they would play in their NCAA opener, was not until March 16. The wait might have been long, but it was not agonizing.

“It was just an exciting time,” Anderson said. “We spent a ton of time online, checking out Bracketology and all that, trying to figure it out. In that time, you’re preparing, of course, but at the same time, you’re soaking it in and enjoying the experience.”

When Sunday afternoon arrived, the Blue Hens found out they were the 13th seed in the East Region. Their first opponent would be No. 4 Michigan State, which had just won the Big Ten tournament and was the national championship pick of all five analysts on an ESPN special that evening.

“I always thought they were one of the best teams in the country, so I was a little bit confused as to why they were a four seed,” Anderson said. “There were probably other teams we would have preferred, but I honestly felt we could beat any team in the country. We looked at it as, in a seven-game series, we probably wouldn’t have much of a chance, but in one game on one night, maybe we would.”

March 20 was not that night for the Blue Hens. Although they got within 44-39 of the Spartans early in the second half, Michigan State prevailed, 93-78. Anderson played 33 minutes and struggled from the field, going 1 for 10 overall and 0 for 6 from 3-point land, though he was 7 for 7 at the free-throw line in scoring nine points.

It was not the type of effort the Blue Hens typically received from Anderson this season. A starter in all 35 games, he averaged 11.0 points a game and was their most accurate shooter from 3-point land (37.6 percent; 85 for 226) and from the free-throw line among players with more than 14 attempts (77.8 percent; 49 for 63). Anderson also contributed 129 rebounds, 32 assists and 29 steals.

“We were in line for a shooter [in 2011], and we were hoping he could really shoot the basketball” Delaware coach Monté Ross said of Anderson. “What he’s become is so much more than just a shooter. Defensively, he’s been good. As a rebounder, he’s been good. And it’s more than that – just his overall leadership in terms of the example he sets for our young people to follow with the way he lives his life.”

Delaware’s first-, second- and fourth-leading scorers are all seniors, which might be seen as an ominous sign for its chances at getting back to the Tournament. Ross, who touts the Blue Hens’ class of five incoming freshmen, and Anderson are optimistic.

“Now that we’ve gotten a taste, I want to go out on top,” Anderson said. “If it doesn’t happen, I now know I’ll be able to say it’s been a great career.”

Anderson says he expects to go from being a “glue guy” to a more prominent player as a senior. Ross seems fine with his role growing.

“If I could recruit and coach 10 Kyle Andersons, I would stay in this profession a very, very long time,” Ross said.

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