NEWARK, Del. — The Delaware 87ers (23-20) topped the Salt Lake City Stars (14-29) 113-111 on Nickelodeon Night featuring Power Rangers to snap a three-game losing streak and pull to within two games of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Nate Robinson hit a game-high four three-pointers and finished with 18 points to help push the Sevens past the Stars. The win comes in the only meeting of the year between the two clubs, the fourth-straight time Delaware has played a team for the first time.
“The great thing about playing teams you haven’t seen this time of year is that there’s so much film on what they’re doing,” Head Coach Eugene Burroughs said. “We can break that down, have a sense of the main 3-4 sets they have and kind of work on those things in practice.”
The Sevens, a team which normally relies on its outside shooting, got to the basket with relative ease early on. Five of Delaware’s first six made field goals came right at the hoop.
“Things opened up and one of the things we talked about was ‘can we make four or five passes in a possession?’ and if we could do that, driving lanes are going to open up; we’ll get some open shots,” Burroughs said.
“I think towards the second half, we started doing that a little bit more and got some open looks and things opened up for us to get to the rim. I think that’s the key for us offensively: can we share the basketball?”
The 87ers did not get away from their normal balanced scoring attack. All five of the team’s starters had points before the first media timeout and eight different 87ers were on the board by the end of the first. The Stars, however, led 26-23 after 12 minutes.
Delaware went on a 13-3 run from the final minute of the first to the nine-minute mark of the second period. Robinson, who paced all scorers with 13 in the first half, led the way and even nailed a buzzer-beating three-ball at the end of the second quarter to give the 87ers a 56-55 advantage heading into the locker room.
“I think as you get older you try to do too much and sometimes you have to quote-unquote ‘dumb it down’ just to keep things simple and I think your basketball skills come out even more, Burroughs said.
“I think at one point I told him ‘hey, if you come off a screen and you’re open, shoot the ball’. Sometimes he was over-dribbling and getting too deep and, again, he’s not doing the things he used to do, but now it’s like you have to reinvent your game. But, again, he can make plays for other people. He does a great job in pick-and-roll, making the simple pocket pass and he made some shots tonight, which was great.”
The Sevens took the momentum from that shot and parlayed it into a third quarter that saw them start things off with a 15-6 run and score at least 30 for the second-straight period. Delaware never trailed in the third and led by double digits for a good chunk of time. Robinson, ever the showman, drained a deep three with six seconds left in the quarter to extend the 87ers’ lead to 86-80 heading into the fourth.
“I told the guys at halftime ‘I think the first team that comes out and just plays with some energy and goes up 10 or 12 will probably win the game’,” Burroughs said. “We had a spurt where, you know, we got some stops on defense, you know, we were trying to get three stops in a row just to kind of find a game for them to play mentally to focus in and lock in on the defensive end.”
The Stars began the fourth by ripping off five straight points to cut their deficit to one. Delaware rebutted with a 13-2 outburst to bring their lead up to 12 and force a Salt Lake City timeout. While the Stars hung tough throughout the period and made things close at the end, the 87ers held on to notch the victory.
Five 87ers finished in double figures, with Roscoe Smith’s 19 at the top of the list. Aaron Harrison had 18, as did Robinson, while Devondrick Walker (15) and Russ Smith (14) also reached the threshold.
Salt Lake City got a game-best 23 points from former Sixer Henry Sims. Former St. Joseph’s standout DeAndre’ Bembry, on assignment from the Atlanta Hawks, delivered 10 points. The Stars had six players with 10 points or better.