Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Drexel’s men’s basketball team played two games this past week. They won the first one and looked pretty good defensively in a generally encouraging performance. The second game of the week was a bigger test, and after overcoming a poor start, they drew within a few points by the end of the game, but the comeback fell short.
Now, after the second game’s crushing outcome, it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly the Dragons stand. But due to the loss being fresh in the mind of the sports world, the outlook is glum.
You’ve heard that one before? Was it published in this newspaper, maybe even by this very writer?
I apologize for the repetition. If they could directly talk to their fans, I’m sure the players would, too. Because after their double-overtime loss Feb. 21 to the University of Delaware, the team’s frustration is at a season high.
Of course, the week actually started out with a Feb. 18 matchup at the Daskalakis Athletic Center against a hapless Hofstra University squad. The result, a 63-54 Dragons victory, was just about everything head coach James “Bruiser” Flint could have asked for from his squad. They held the Pride to just 54 points, and that was with Stevie Mejia playing his best game of the season.
Offensively, the team relied on the season’s typical recipe for success: heavy leaning on Damion Lee, Frantz Massenat and Derrick Thomas, who combined for 44 of the team’s 63 points in the game.
The guard-heavy play benefited the Dragons against the Pride, as the advantage at the position was definitively in Drexel’s favor. They exploited the mismatch, taking a 10-point halftime lead and never looking back, as they sent the Pride to their fourth straight loss, their 11th out of their last 12 games.
But Monday’s game was the predictable appetizer to what followed on Thursday. On the docket was a rematch with the Delaware Blue Hens, rivals extraordinaire, with the Dragons looking to exact revenge after falling two points short Jan. 28 at home.
However, you wouldn’t have known that Drexel had revenge in mind if you just watched the first five minutes of the game.
Before Massenat and company could react to the tipoff, Delaware had snagged a 9-0 lead, starting the game in similar fashion to the January matchup. The Dragons took five minutes to get on the scoreboard and had to expend all sorts of energy playing catch-up throughout the game. They finally took their first lead of the game on a three-pointer from Lee with 3:41 left in the game, giving his team a 49-48 lead.
As the game wound down, the contest gravitated toward a central theme: Delaware’s Devon Saddler vs. Drexel’s guard game. It was a typical, low-scoring Colonial Athletic Association backcourt game once again. In other words, it was what both fan bases had hoped for all along.
In the end, Saddler put on the prettiest show. In his 13th game with at least 20 points this season, the outstanding junior kept the Blue Hens alive in overtime by scoring six of their eight points, including the tying free throw with 39 seconds left, and then opened the scoring in double overtime.
On the other side of the court, Drexel’s entire offensive game was based around the jump shots. Whether that was the intention or not is unknown, but their big-man game completely let them down in terms of production. Daryl McCoy and Dartaye Ruffin, both inconsistent all year, combined for 10 fouls and no points and had both fouled out before the middle of the first overtime.
Without their two key big men, Goran Pantovic was called on to step up in a pinch and try to defend Delaware’s Jamelle Hagins. But the Dragons quickly learned that he was more than incapable, as he, too, fouled out, with a number of those fouls falling under the categories of “avoidable” and “crushing.”
And yet all of those shortcomings aside, Lee, Massenat and Thomas had scored a combined 61 to keep their team in the game until the very end. After Saddler missed one of two free throws with 3.7 seconds left in double overtime, the score lay at 73-71, an inbound pass impending.
Reminiscent of Massenat’s magical half-court shot, he got the ball on the inbound and rushed down the court. Delaware’s defense, keen to avoid a foul, allowed his drive to reach the foul line before he took off, the clock ticking perilously close to zero. His floater left his hand before the light lit red, the shot possibly off center. But the miss wasn’t going to matter: Hagins had committed goaltending!
Well, he did commit goaltending. The problem is that the referees didn’t call goaltending.
Flint exploded in rage, chasing the referees to half-court. The Drexel bench leaped in an uproar, incensed over the injustice. Twitter exploded in 140-character tirades.
But only so much can be done once the call is made.
Now the Dragons march on, embittered and embattled, toward a date with Towson University. The Tigers are coming into the game 6-1 in their last seven games, including a 20-point thrashing of the very Delaware team that just thwarted the Dragons.
The game poses a serious problem for Drexel. Towson’s star player, Jerrelle Benimon, is a forward. He averages 16.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game and has been heating up recently. Against Delaware, Drexel’s two starting forwards combined for zero points.
You can see the problem.
The key to the game will be Benimon. If McCoy or Ruffin (or both) can come up with big performances and relatively shut him down, the game will be close. But if they continue their recent trends?
Well, the players can remind themselves that there are only three games left in the regular season. After a season as frustrating as this one, they can only look forward to the 0-0 record that comes with the beginning of the conference tournament. Sitting at .500 will be a nice break.