The Dragons are breathing fire right now — plain and simple. They boast a 16-5 record (8-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association) and are tied for second in the CAA standings, just below George Mason University and tied with Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion University.
The Dragons have won eight games in a row, all of them in conference, and are undefeated at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. Drexel leads the CAA in scoring defense, three-point field goal percent, three-point field goal defense and defensive rebound percentage, and they are also uncharacteristically ranked second in the CAA in free throw percentage. Drexel also has three top-20 scorers in the CAA: senior forward Samme Givens (11.8 points per game), sophomore guard Frantz Massenat (12.2 ppg) and freshman guard Damion Lee (12 ppg). Massenat is also leading the CAA in three-point percentage (47.4), and he’s third in assists (4.1 assists per game). Givens is also third in the conference in shooting (53.1 percent). So yes, the Dragons are extremely hot right now. Things are really looking up after a slow start to the season.
Drexel welcomed Northeastern University (9-9, 5-3 CAA) to a sellout crowd at the DAC Jan. 21 for a showdown of conference rivals. It was a back-and-forth game early, but the Dragons didn’t look back, as they didn’t give up a lead after the 17:44 mark. Drexel went on an 18-0 run and drained five of its first six three-pointers. The Huskies went on a run of their own, scoring 15 points in a row before junior guard Derrick Thomas broke Drexel’s drought with a three. The Dragons led by eight at the half, while shooting 57 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc. The second half was a bit more physical, with both teams combining for 37 free throws in the final 20 minutes. The closest the Huskies got to slowing the Dragons was a seven-point deficit, but they couldn’t hold off the surging Dragons. When all was said and done, Drexel won 71-53. Thomas shot a perfect 5-5 from beyond the arc, while the team as a whole shot a season-high 60 percent from the floor.
The Dragons continued to roll Jan. 23 in Williamsburg, Va. against The College of William & Mary (4-17, 2-7 CAA). Both teams started the game slowly, with the Dragons only scoring five points in the first six plus minutes. Drexel was finally able to pick it up and ended up leading the Tribe by nine at the half, 30-21. The Dragons shot a solid 52 percent from the floor with Lee leading the way with 10 points. The Dragons continued their domination of the Tribe in the second half, leading by 18 at one point. Drexel won the game 64-48, led by sophomore forward Dartaye Ruffin, who scored a career-high 18 points in the tilt. Ruffin was 5-6 from the floor and a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe. Ruffin alone attempted more free throws then the whole William & Mary team. Lee also had an impressive game, scoring 17 points, draining 3-4 from long range.
Most recently, Drexel played host to Georgia State University (13-6, 6-3 CAA) Jan. 25. The Panthers came into their matchup against Drexel having won their last game against James Madison University 74-58. The last time these two teams met, Georgia State came away with a deciding 58-44 win over the Dragons. This game was expected to be a continuation of their first meeting, with defense reigning supreme.
The Dragons won the tip but couldn’t capitalize on their first possession. Drexel junior forward Daryl McCoy did, however, score the first basket of the game. The Panthers answered on their next possession with a bucket of their own to even up the score. The Dragons got themselves into trouble early with defensive lapses and poor ball security. The Panthers took advantage of the Dragons’ mistakes and jumped to an early six-point lead. Drexel was able to keep it close until Ruffin caught fire and scored five points in a row to tie the game at 19-19. Thomas and junior guard Chris Fouch hit back-to-back threes to make the score 25-20, and the Dragons never looked back. They finished the first half up by nine, 37-28. Head coach Bruiser Flint commented on the Dragons’ first-half troubles in a postgame press conference.
“I didn’t think we played defense the entire first half,” Flint said. “They had their guys driving to the hoop. That’s what they do — they’re a driving team.”
The Dragons tidied up their defense in the locker room during the break, holding the Panthers to just one point in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Dragons turned that strong defensive play into 15 points in the same amount of time. The Dragons finished the rest of the game pushing their defense first and won the game 68-46.
“At halftime [defense] was all we talked about,” Flint said. “We have to guard, we have to get over screens, we have to get off and play better weak side … and we did a better job to start the second half.”
Fouch had a team-high 15 points, with all of his field goals coming from beyond the arc. Massenat, who played a team-high 36 minutes, had 13 points, six assists and three steals in the game, while Givens had his third double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 boards.
When asked if the team was looking for revenge after losing to the Panthers earlier in the season, Massenat shared the feeling inside the locker room.
“At their house they beat us bad,” Massenat said. “One of our coaches was telling us that they were talking junk, and they circle our game every year. … We wanted to blow them out.”
Massenat also discussed what made this game different from the last time these two teams met.
“We handled their pressure a lot better,” Massenat said. “I set people up under pressure, the other guards handled it well, and our game plan was just better for us.”
Ruffin has been a revelation off the bench for the Dragons the past few games. He scored nine points and eight rebounds in the win. He has had 27 points and 13 boards in the past two games.
“He’s being aggressive,” Flint said, adding that he’s been urging Ruffin to take more shots.
Drexel’s next game is against rival University of Delaware (9-11, 5-5 CAA) Jan. 28 as the Dragons look to avenge their only other CAA loss on the year. The Dragons aren’t letting the Blue Hens’ subpar record fool them; they know it will be another hard-fought game.
“Nobody plays us harder in this league than [UDel],” Flint said. “I tell my guys that all the time. It’s a rivalry game, so you know they’re going to be ready. They’re always ready.”
Riding sky-high on an eight-game winning streak, Flint believes that this team will finally get the recognition it deserves. He believes they are special and just as good as any of the other teams in Philadelphia — and that’s saying something as Temple beat then-No. 3 Duke earlier in the year.
“I think we’re the best team in [Philadelphia], and I think we can beat anyone in this city, and I think we’ve proven it,” Flint said.