- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

BALTIMORE (AP) - Delaware guard Devon Saddler is headed to the NCAA tournament. A few years from now, the kid just might find himself working as a basketball coach.

Saddler showed his prowess as a strategist in the closing seconds of the Colonial Athletic Association championship Monday night, and the result was a 75-74 victory over William & Mary that thrust the Blue Hens into the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years.

Delaware trailed by a point when coach Monte Ross gathered his team to draw up a play with 25 seconds left. Ross wanted to have Saddler, the Blue Hens’ all-time leading scorer, take the pivotal shot.

“The first thing he said was, ‘Get the ball inside to Bap,’” Ross said.

Good move.

Carl Baptiste made the go-ahead layup with 10 seconds left, and not long after that the Blue Hens (25-9) were cutting down the nets at the Baltimore Arena to celebrate their fifth trip to the NCAA tournament.

“We’ve had a heck of a year,” Ross said. “To cap it off like this is really special.”

The Hens, who previously qualified in 1992, 1993, 1998 and 1999, were making their first appearance in a league championship since losing to Hofstra in the 2001 America East tournament.

This one wasn’t easy. Delaware trailed 74-68 with 1:20 left before scoring the game’s last seven points. After Saddler made two foul shots, Jarvis Threatt added a three-point play and Baptiste finished the comeback with a bullish layup.

“I tell you what, it was crowded in there when we got it to him, but he powered it into the basket,” Ross said.

William & Mary had one last chance, but Marcus Thornton bounced a jumper off the rim just before the buzzer sounded. An instant later, Hens fans rushed the court to celebrate with the team.

In the end and from the outset, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Baptiste was too much to handle for the third-seeded Tribe (20-12). He finished with a career-high 24 points, including 16 in the first half on 7-for-7 shooting. He finished 9 for 11 from the field, in addition to going 6 for 7 at the foul line and grabbing eight rebounds.

Thornton scored 22 and Tim Rusthoven had 16 for William and Mary, which trailed by 12 early in the second half.

“We fought and fought and fought until we got back in it,” coach Tony Shaver said. “But they made some big plays.”

Despite playing in the CAA championship game for the third time in the last seven seasons, William & Mary remains in search of its first NCAA tournament appearance. Along with Army, St. Francis (N.Y.), Northwestern and The Citadel, the Tribe are one of five original Division I members never to have made the NCAAs.

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