The selection committee didn’t call Drexel’s name to be invited to the big dance on Selection Sunday. After posting a 25-2 record since Dec. 10, the Dragons were left at the altar by the “higher ups” in college basketball and will have to move on to their next challenge: the National Invitation Tournament.
The Dragons, as a group, were undoubtedly disappointed that they didn’t receive a tournament bid. However, they were poised to show the selection committee what they were missing.
“We still got chance to win another national championship,” junior guard Chris Fouch said in an interview after the game. “We all got together — we wanted to come out today and just prove to the world that we’re a good team.”
The third-seeded Dragons hosted the sixth-seeded University of Central Florida (22-10, 10-6 Conference USA) in the first round of the NIT March 14. The Knights finished third in the Conference USA standings with notable wins against the University of Connecticut and the University of Memphis. UCF made a run in the C-USA Tournament, but was downed by Memphis 83-52 in the semifinals.
The Dragons have capitalized on their home-court advantage this year, going 13-0 at home this year. They got off to a fast start in this one, with junior forward Daryl McCoy hitting an easy jumper in Drexel’s first possession. Sophomore guard Frantz Massenat then hit a wide-open three on Drexel’s second possession to make the lead 5-0, forcing UCF to take an early timeout. The Knights had trouble getting their offense going in the first two minutes of the game, failing on four attempts.
After a layup by senior Samme Givens, the Dragons took an early 7-0 lead. Freshman Damion Lee then drove the lane past multiple UCF defenders and made an acrobatic layup, prompting the DAC to erupt with cheers afterwards. UCF finally woke up after Lee’s bucket and put together a run to come within three points — but that’s the closest UCF would get in the first half.
With 12:24 remaining in the half, in his first game back from a suspension, junior guard Derrick Thomas hit a three to widen the Dragons’ lead to five points. Drexel was able to hit plenty of open threes as the half continued, most notably one by Lee to put the Dragons up 28-16.
The Dragons finished the half leading the Knights 37-24. Lee seemed to do it all in the first half with four rebounds and eight points. Massenat was a perfect two-for-two from beyond the arc, and Fouch had an outstanding first half, scoring eight points in just six minutes of action.
The second half was a bit more chippy. Both teams were in the double bonus early, after just 10 combined fouls in the first half. Givens played just eight minutes and picked up four fouls in the second half. The Dragons continued to get open looks on the outside in the half, which kept their lead over UCF at a comfortable distance.
At around the halfway point of the half, the Knights would come within 10 points, but they wouldn’t be able to make up the ground. As a result of Givens’ foul trouble, head coach James “Bruiser” Flint opted to send in unexpected reinforcements — sophomore forward Goran Pantovic. The Serbian native got his first points of the season and ended the game with 10 points and two rebounds in just eight minutes of play.
“[He] played his butt off today,” Flint said. “He does that all the time in practice. … He does exactly the same thing he did out there in the game, but I want to see him do it all of the time. We wanted a good minute out of him; we got eight.”
After the dust settled, the Dragons emerged victorious, winning their first-ever NIT game 81-56. Fouch had a game-high 19 points, five of which were threes, in just 18 minutes of playing time. Massenat also had a monster game with 18 points and career-high 14 assists in the contest.
The Dragons have set a school record with 28 wins in a single season and will face the University of Northern Iowa in the second round of the NIT. The seventh- seeded UNI upset second-seeded Saint Joseph’s University in their first round matchup. The game can be seen on ESPN March 18.