Five wins, 11 losses. That was the Drexel men’s basketball team’s record before a Jan. 19 victory over The College of William & Mary on the road. The Dragons now sit at 9-12, still with a losing record, but after facing and knocking off some staunch competition from the league’s elite, the Dragons are feeling pretty good about their chances come March.
The first competition of the week came against the Georgia State University Panthers, a resilient, offensive-minded team that had won four straight coming into the Jan. 26 Homecoming matchup.
Entering Saturday’s contest, the Panthers were averaging 66.2 points per game on the year and had scored at least 69 points in each of the four games leading up to this one. However, head coach James ‘Bruiser’ Flint’s defense took R.J. Hunter, Georgia State’s star freshman, completely out of the game, finishing just 1 of 9 from the field.
The Dragon defense held the Panthers’ shooters to just 27.7 percent from the field, as the Dragons held a fourth-straight opponent under 60 points, a revitalization for the defense that looked lost at the beginning of the season.
On the offensive end, it wasn’t a spectacular outing for the Dragons’ shooters, but it was a very acceptable one given the defensive effort. Damion Lee hit the 20-point mark for the first time since New Year’s Eve. Combined with Derrick Thomas’ highest output in three weeks (14 points), it was more than enough to grant the Dragons the 68-57 victory.
Then, of course, came the rivalry game.
The University of Delaware, inarguably Drexel’s biggest rival, came stumbling into town on a three-game losing streak, the inverse of the Dragons’ winning streak. Both teams had 8-11 records, and the game reflected the equality between the two squads, albeit only in the final score.
Kyle Anderson and Carl Baptiste, both role players, each doubled their season scoring averages, providing the Hens with 23 points outside of their core scorers.
Drexel’s support scoring was lacking, and they trailed by 15 with just 4:22 remaining in the game. However, sophomore Dragon Damion Lee wasn’t ready to let the rivalry game go away in a blowout.
Down 64-49, Lee helped the Dragons go on a 9-0 run with huge three-pointers and great defensive play in drawing a charge to get the ball back. He whipped the DAC Pack crowd into a frenzy; his career-high 30 points and ferocious play breathed new life into the arena.
However, on the ensuing Delaware possession, Lee was called for a debatable fifth foul, taking him out of the game for the final 2:40 of the contest.
Frantz Massenat and company didn’t take their feet off the pedal, though, and were actually able to draw within one point and win possession with 40 seconds remaining. But Massenat’s layup attempt with nine seconds in the game was off the mark, and after a Delaware free throw on the other end, the Dragons fell 66-64, bringing their winning streak to a heartbreaking halt.
The Dragons couldn’t dwell on the past, though. The final game of the week was a contest with George Mason University, the No. 2 team in the conference. For their ultimate hopes of winning the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, it was essentially a must-win in terms of building confidence.
The team got off to yet another slow start against the Patriots, falling behind with scores of 10-1 and 30-11 deep into the first half. Down 13 at the half, it seemed as if the Dragons were headed for a second straight loss after they couldn’t generate offense and were unable to stop Sherrod Wright, one of the top players in the conference, who scored 12 points in the first half.
And then, just like last time, along came Damion Lee and his second half.
For the second straight game, Lee put up 20 points in the second half, completely taking over the game as the Dragons began the half with a 25-11 run. He and Thomas made good use of the Patriots’ weak transition defense, always pushing the tempo and finding ways to get easy layups on the other end.
Once down by 20 points in the first half, the game was pulled to a tie with a jumper from Lee with 2:14 left, and then the teams traded nervous, tentative possessions until the Dragons gained possession with 48 seconds remaining. Lee got the ball beyond the arc, and without batting an eyelash, he knocked down the long ball to give the Dragons the 57-54 lead. Lee was then fouled and made one of the two shots to secure a 58-54 victory for the Dragons.
Looking ahead to the Feb. 2 away game with Northeastern University, it’s another key game for the Blue and Gold. At this point in the season, wins against big teams are what matter most rather than the final record. Beating George Mason was huge, giving them the confidence to believe that if they draw the Patriots in the tournament, it’s a winnable game.
If the Dragons can keep it close or outright win against the Huskies, the best team in the conference, March is going to be quite the month for the Dragons. Especially if Lee has anything to say about it.