NEWARK, Del. (AP) — Mike Brey reunited with old friends, felt at home on a familiar sideline and soaked in the cheers from Delaware fans still grateful for the way he stamped the program on the basketball map.
The happy homecoming was going well — except for those peeks at the scoreboard.
“First 15 minutes, I’m like, ‘Why’d you do this?'” Brey said, laughing.
Once the final buzzer sounded in No. 9 Notre Dame’s 92-68 win over Delaware on Saturday night, Brey had a good answer: for the hearty handshake and warm words with his former longtime assistant, Blue Hens coach Martin Ingelsby.
“That was kind of different emotionally, coming back here, playing against a guy you love and competing against him,” Brey said.
Bonzie Colson had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Matt Farrell scored 24 points and TJ Gibbs had 21 to help the Fighting Irish (8-2) rebound from an 80-77 loss to Ball State on Tuesday.
Brey returned to the Bob Carpenter Center for the first time since the end of his Delaware head coaching stint in 2000. Brey led the Blue Hens to the NCAA Tournament in 1998 and 1999 and is a member of the UD Athletics Hall of Fame.
Delaware was ready for the anticipated return on a snowy Saturday — the gym was packed with nearly 5,000 fans and SRO tickets were sold, with at least most of the crowd dressed in blue. Delaware cheerleaders formed two lines in the lobby and greeted fans as they walked through the door. The student section behind one basket was packed as they bounced, cheered and waved for the cameras on hand for the rare nationally televised game.
Brey received a warm standing ovation when the PA announcer asked fans to, “please welcome home to the Bob Carpenter Center … Mike Brey!”
“I was so fortunate to be here,” Brey said. “This place set me up for the rest of my coaching career.”
Notre Dame agreed to play at Delaware because Ingelsby, in his second season, played his senior season for Brey at Notre Dame in 2000-01 and later served 13 seasons on the Irish staff.
Delaware (4-6) only guaranteed Notre Dame tickets to fans if they bought a season-ticket package. The game was not sold individually, which led to tickets listed on StubHub with a starting price of $85 about an hour or so before tipoff. Consider, tickets on the same site start at $6 for the CSU Bakersfield game later this month.
There was one section reserved for about 100 Notre Dame fans and there were a smattering of blue and gold shirts around the gym but the rest came in Delaware colors. They held signs that said, “Welcome Back to Blue Hen Country Coach Brey!!!” and “Fear the Bird!”
And for about 12 minutes, the Blue Hens gave the Irish a scare.
The fans went wild when Delaware scored the first basket of the game and kept it going when Kevin Anderson’s 3 made it 14-11 for the Blue Hens. Ryan Daly rallied them from a small deficit with a 3, Anderson gave Delaware the lead on a jumper and when a Notre Dame bounce pass bounced out of bounds, the fans erupted and made it sound like 10,000 fans were stuffed inside the gym.
“I hope the people that were in that building were excited to come back and watch us,” Ingelsby said.
Once the Irish settled down, they took over. Gibbs hit two 3s in the final 3:50 and the Irish took a 38-27 lead into halftime. They blew the game open in the second. Rex Pflueger hit a 3 for a 21-point lead and the Irish would not get upset by an unranked team again.
Anderson scored 23 points for the Blue Hens.
“All I kept hearing is, ‘Are you ready for this weekend?'” Anderson said. “I was like, just come to the game and see.”
The Irish survived another upset bid and have three more games to get sharp before ACC play opens on Dec. 30.
No matter the score, this was a big win for Delaware. The Blue Hens drew a nice gate, had a packed house and held their own for a spell on national television. But they dropped to 0-33 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and 0-18 against teams in the Top 10. The Irish were the highest-ranked team to play at the Bob Carpenter Center since it opened in 1992-93.
The Blue Hens, who have made only one NCAA Tournament since Brey left, played without junior forward Jacob Cushing (2.6 points) because of a broken nose suffered in practice. Forward Derrick Woods (5.8 points) was also suspended indefinitely. The Blue Hens did not give a reason for the suspension and would not say if the incidents were related.
FAMILY TRUMPS SCHOOL
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sat in the Notre Dame section and wore a school pullover. Christie graduated in 1984 from Delaware but his daughter goes to school at Notre Dame.
Delaware held a moment of silence for former football coach Harold “Tubby” Raymond. Raymond, who led the Blue Hens to three national championships, died Friday. He was 92.
HE SAID IT
Blue Hen Ryan Allen, who scored 14 points, had only one concern about playing on television.
“Don’t get dunked on,” he said.
Notre Dame: Heads to Indianapolis to play Indiana in the Crossroads Classic.
Delaware: Plays Sunday at Delaware State.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.