Thirty-five seconds left on the game clock.
Junior guard Damion Lee carried the ball across half court and head coach James “Bruiser” Flint called a timeout. The Drexel University men’s basketball team trailed the College of Charleston Cougars, 51-49, the afternoon of Jan. 24. The Dragons had trailed by six at halftime after making just five of 21 field goal attempts in the first half.
During the break, Flint told his players they couldn’t keep shooting that way.
“Guys have got to be ready to score the ball when it comes to them,” Flint said. “That’s it. I didn’t think we took bad shots in the first half. We just didn’t make any of them.”
A much sturdier second-half effort — nine of 21, to that point — helped them corral the College of Charleston Cougars, continuing to lock down on defense and making shots when they were there for the taking.
Twenty-six seconds left on the clock.
Lee missed a jump shot, tipped by Charleston forward Adjehi Baru, and the ball ricocheted off the rim, and for a split-second appeared to be heading out of bounds. Freshman guard Sammy Mojica Jr. saved the ball from careening into the stands, lobbing it up to junior guard Tavon Allen, who saved the ball from hitting the Drexel bench. Lee had the ball back. Another timeout from Flint.
Twenty-three seconds left on the clock.
With 18 points at that time in the game, Lee was the base of Drexel’s offense all afternoon. In that woeful first half, Lee made three of his six field goal attempts while his teammates made two of 15 tries. On the last three possessions of the game, Flint said he told his team specifically to get the ball to Lee.
If the Dragons were going to complete the comeback, it was going to be by the hand of their leading scorer, their leader.
Still 23 seconds left on the clock.
What would Flint call?
“We just ran a fade,” the veteran coach explained. “We don’t usually run a play like that, but I saw how [Charleston was] lining up a little bit, how they were lining up on that side out.”
The play called for Lee to get the ball, of course. A quick in-bounds pass found Mojica, with Lee in his sights.
Twenty seconds left on the clock.
Lee was in the right corner, behind the arc, by design.
“We switched positions, because usually our point guard is there,” Flint detailed. “We don’t fade for our point guard, though.”
Nineteen seconds on the clock.
Lee received the pass from Mojica, with Baru defending him. Lee had been running the baseline for the better part of the afternoon with Baru marking him. Flint was irate with Lee in the first half, he said, because his star guard kept stopping in the no-man’s land underneath the hoop.
“That’s why they’re not passing to you,” Flint said he explained to Lee at halftime. “The guy’s standing right there. Run to the corner. If Baru comes at you, go by him or shoot it.”
That’s why Flint drew up the final play the way he did.
“I thought, even if [Lee] got it and [Charleston’s players] switched, it would be a big man on him,” Flint said. “So even if the big man jumped, he would have a drive.
Eighteen seconds on the clock.
Baru came at Lee, but he didn’t jump all the way. Lee had the three with enough space to get it off. The Colonial Athletic Association’s leading scorer rose up, elbow square, and fired the shot.
Lee finished with 21 points on the afternoon, knocking down five of 13 attempts from the field and seven of eight from the line. Four of his five made field goals came from behind the three-point line, including his final shot of the afternoon. Sophomore forward Mohamed Bah hit one free throw with 3.1 seconds to play, and Charleston’s Canyon Barry missed a desperation shot as the buzzer sounded.
Flint’s play worked. Flint’s halftime teaching worked. For one day, at least, it was Flint’s day again.
Drexel returns to action again Jan. 28 when Northeastern University (14-6, 6-1) pays a visit to the Daskalakis Athletic Center at 7 p.m.