Entering the month of February, two-thirds of the way through the season, the Drexel University men’s basketball season found itself at an intriguing place. This season has had its share of disappointments: some near-misses to University of North Carolina at Wilmington, a close loss to Northwestern University and the one that got away to Saint Joseph’s University at home. Perhaps no weeks, however, will be remembered with more regret than this past one, which resulted in three overtimes, one missed buzzer-beater and, more importantly, two league losses at the hands of Towson University Feb. 2 and Hofstra University Feb. 4.
The last week of January was not a fruitful one for the Dragons. High hopes for a victorious homecoming celebration after a tight one point finish with Hofstra Jan. 26 were spoiled by a hungry College of Charleston bunch that poured in 90 points en route to a 14 point victory at the Daskalakis Athletic Center Jan. 28. A weary Drexel squad traveling to the College of William & Mary for their third game in a brutal six day stretch was a step slow all night, failing to keep up with the Tribe for yet another blowout loss Jan. 30.
An extra day’s rest amidst the grind of league play can sometimes make all the difference, though, and this showed when Drexel continued their road stretch in Towson for a matchup against the Tigers Feb. 2. After a neck and neck first five minutes, they pulled ahead to a commanding 9 point advantage with just under 10 minutes left in the first half. Despite a continued strong half from consistent senior big man Rodney Williams, who tallied 15 for the period, a flurry of free throws at the end of the half after a Drexel technical foul caused the Dragons to end the half with Towson up one point 43-42.
In the second half, things remained tight and evolved into a showdown between two players: Williams for Drexel and Mike Morsell for Towson. Williams had a monster night across the stat sheet, grabbing 16 boards to go along with his 27 points. Morsell’s night was astounding on multiple levels. Not only were his 32 points a career high, they were on just 13 shots.
In the end, the game’s fate fell to the hands of freshman guard Kirk Lee. At the end of regulation, he converted two crucial free throws to send it into overtime. And, after the Dragons fell down by two points late in the extra period, it was up to Lee again. This time, he was unable to convert the layup in catching iron, but it bounced out as time expired.
Opportunities for redemption came just two days later, when Drexel traveled up the eastern seaboard to Hofstra to face the Pride in yet another CAA contest. This one appeared to be nearly over time and time again, but as Super Bowl LI so eloquently (and heartbreakingly for the Eagles fans around campus) portrayed, a comeback is never out of the question.
After a neck and neck first half, Drexel surged in the later part of the second half, watching their lead balloon all the way to 10 as the game dwindled down to the final two minutes. This effort was led by Drexel’s frontcourt tandem of Williamses, made up of Austin Williams and Rodney Williams, who both managed to score in double digits. Rodney, especially, had another monster game, pulling down eight rebounds to go along with 26 points. His last two came with just 1:15 left in the contest, a dunk off a pass from graduate student John Moran that almost certainly seemed to seal the deal and give Drexel its first win in four games.
However, it seemed not to be on this occasion. Kirk Lee, despite another commendable week (that resulted in his second CAA Rookie of the Week Honor), had a critical turnover in the final minute, which, coupled with missed free throws, doomed Drexel. Not even a late timeout from Zach Spiker with 24 seconds remaining could help his team cling to the two-point lead that they were holding. A three-pointer from Tribe freshman Justin Wright-Foreman on the following possession and a free throw by Eli Pemberton were the final blows to a crushing defeat that left those in the stands and on the court stunned.
The road trip is thankfully over for Drexel, who hope to return home and get back on the win column this week. The time to gain some momentum prior to league playoffs is now, and the quest begins with a repeat showdown at home with Towson tips off Feb. 11.