NEWARK, DE – The Delaware 87ers (15-13) dropped their third straight game and second to the Grand Rapids Drive (13-16) this season. The final score was 116-105 in favor of the Drive, which knotted the season series at two games apiece. This was the final meeting of the year between the two teams.
Shawn Long and James Webb III led the way for Delaware, with both notching double-doubles. Long finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds, his 12th double-double in the past 14 games. Webb III’s 13 and 12 gave him five-straight double-doubles.
Russ Smith got the start, his first of this season for the Sevens. He had just three points, but did dish out 10 assists in 33 minutes.
“I thought he did a great job of moving the basketball,” said Head Coach Eugene Burroughs. “For us, that’s a plus to have a guy with his ability to get guys shots.”
The two teams kept it close throughout the first three quarters. The Drive led by seven after one period and just one at halftime. The 87ers won a high-scoring third frame 34-32 to take an 84-83 lead into the fourth. Delaware kept pace with the Drive despite shooting just 6-33 from three-point land.
“I gave those guys the confidence to shoot the basketball,” Burroughs said. “We’re a pretty high-percentage three-point team. The first half, I felt like if we had gotten those same shots in the second half, we’d be in great shape. I think we got some of those looks but we just didn’t make them tonight.”
The game remained close through the midway point of the fourth quarter. From there, the wheels came off. Both teams played sloppily late, but Grand Rapids capitalized on Delaware’s miscues, while the 87ers could not return the favor.
“I think sometimes you have to play through that,” Burroughs said. “You always have spurts in games where it gets a little hectic, but sometimes I look at those opportunities as ways to get easy buckets.
“It helps us push the tempo a little bit. Unfortunately for us, I think we looked a little gassed as the game went on. We were down a body, which obviously plays a role in a game like that. But, we also have to just find a way to defend at a high level, and I don’t think we did that tonight.”
Delaware, playing without Cat Barber for the fifth-straight game, allowed 65 second-half points and lost the final period 33-21. Barber was sidelined with an ankle injury.
The Drive had a monster game from downtown. Grand Rapids went 18-34 from distance, good for 53 percent. Five different players had multiple three-pointers and the team knocked down timely threes late in the game.
“They made shots. Having the extra bodies helped,” Burroughs said. “They had three assignment guys that, you know, aren’t playing at the NBA level so they come in and give you a little injection of life and energy, and it made a difference tonight.”
Those assignment players were Henry Ellenson, Michael Gbinije and Darrun Hilliard. Ellenson and Gbinije were drafted by the Detriot Pistons, the Drive’s parent club, in the 2016 draft. Hilliard was selected in the second round of the 2015 draft after a standout four-year career at Villanova. All three players finished in double figures,and seven Grand Rapids players in total had more than 10 points.
Delaware had five players cross the 10-point threshold. Dionte Christmas had 19, Devondrick Walker racked up 15 and Brandon Triche finished with 13 off the bench.
Next up, the 87ers hit the road to take on the Maine Red Claws on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. ET.
By Varun Raghupathi, 24/Sevens Insider