Since Drexel University’s Men’s Basketball schedule for the 2022-23 season was released, one game stood out more prominently than the rest: Drexel versus the University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 15. Referred to as “The Battle of 33rd Street,” it is the closest rivalry, in terms of distance, in all of collegiate sports. There are just four blocks separating the home courts for the Dragons and the Quakers. This storied rivalry dates all the way back to 1920, with 27 such matchups between the two teams. Since 2007, Drexel has had an advantage over Penn, winning six out of the last eight clashes. Unfortunately, the Dragons could not find the same success on Tuesday as they fell to the Quakers in dramatic fashion with a 64-59 loss.
The game began inauspiciously for Drexel. Outside of the star center, Amari Williams, it appeared as if there were a lid on top of the Dragons basket. Williams, who is undoubtedly one of the best players in the Colonial Athletic Conference, used his size and strength advantage to repeatedly bully Penn’s starting center Nick Spinoso in the paint. Had it not been for Williams’ strong first half, the Dragons’ chances at victory would have been dead early on. As a team, Drexel shot 30% from the field, 20% from beyond-the-arc, and an abysmal 44% from the free throw line. Penn performed up to the characteristics of their usual squad, hitting all of their first half free throws and sinking 42% of their field goals. Ultimately, the half ended with a turnover from Drexel’s freshman point guard, Justin Moore, that led to an emphatic buzzer-beating dunk by Penn’s Lucas Monroe to put the Quakers up by 11.
In the second half, the Dragons clawed their way back into the game. A huge reason for this was the stellar performances of three bench players for Drexel: Luke House, Jamie Bergens and Garfield Turner. Bergens came off the bench to play 27 minutes while scoring nine points and dishing two assists. He also served as one of the primary defenders of Penn’s most dangerous offensive weapon, Jordan Dingle, in the second half. House, who saw limited action in the past, has played major minutes for the Dragons thus far in the season. He rose to the moment in this game, hitting three three-pointers in the second half. With each deep three that House drained, the packed crowd in the Daskalakis Athletic Center (DAC) erupted as they brought Drexel closer on the scoreboard.
Throughout the final seven minutes of the game, Drexel whittled away Penn’s lead from 11 all the way down to just two points with a minute-and-a-half remaining. Unfortunately, Penn’s guard, Clark Slajchert, responded with a dagger three-pointer that effectively sealed the game for the Quakers.
The major difference in the game was the disparity in free throws. While Penn sank 13 of their 14 free throw attempts, Drexel only managed to convert nine of their 20 shots from the charity stripe. Making free throws is often something that can be remedied in practice, a sentiment that was echoed by Coach Spiker in the post game press conference.
“The effort is there, we just need to hit a few more of our free throws. We can control that, and we will…It was a significant difference,” Spiker said.
While overall the Dragons fell flat in this rivalry game, there were many positives to take away. This team is in the midst of a lot of turnover and is still trying to find itself in many ways. Justin Moore, while performing well, is still growing as a young player. Lamar Oden Jr. and Mate Okros are statistically some of the best three point shooters in the CAA, though they have not performed to that standard this season. If the starters surrounding Williams can find their shooting stroke, the Dragons can be very dangerous.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of this game did not happen on the court Tuesday, but instead happened all around it. The DAC was filled to the rafters with 2,324 people in attendance. At one point, fans were not being allowed inside the DAC because it was at capacity. This is a massive success for Drexel Athletics, as improving attendance was a major focal point for this season and the future. The atmosphere was raucous. Head Coach Spiker sang the praises of the student section for making the DAC deafening, even going so far as to credit the fans for a crucial shot clock violation committed by Penn in the final minutes of the game.
“The atmosphere was incredible. I think our fans really showed out, they did a great job,” Spiker said. “I encourage them to come back and stick with this team…I hope the result doesn’t discourage them from coming back because they made a difference…we need them to continue being a factor in games.” Drexel figures to bounce back on Friday when they take on Arcadia, a Division III opponent, at 6 p.m. at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.