“We had three wide-open three-point shots. Three of ‘em! … We had our opportunities, great opportunities tonight. Those last 14 seconds tonight — can’t get no better than that. I told [the players] you know, sometimes you’ve gotta make plays. To win games, you have to make plays. … We gave ourselves the opportunities at the end, and we just couldn’t see the opportunities. … I’ve stopped looking at the record, to be honest with you. We’ve gotta play better. We haven’t made a big play all season. We haven’t. … What are you going to do?”
After his team’s one-point loss to the Towson University Tigers Feb. 23, Drexel men’s basketball head coach James “Bruiser” Flint simply had had enough. Clearly exasperated after yet another close but disappointing finish, the feisty coach spoke for the entire fan base in a postgame interview.
“What are you going to do, man?” he wondered aloud. “I mean, what are you going to do? This game sums up the whole season.”
Unfortunately, he’s all too right.
In yet another game that barely slipped away from them, Drexel held tough against Towson, the surprise story of the Colonial Athletic Association this season, until the final seconds. Led by potential Conference Player of the Year Jerrelle Benimon, a walking double-double, the Tigers started hotter than the Dragons in the first half.
Towson took a 10-point lead with five minutes remaining in the half and went into the locker room up by eight, controlling the offensive end and getting any shot they wanted.
The Dragons had their work cut out for them.
Yet, just one minute into the second half, Frantz Massenat had made it a four-point game, and it was time to buckle down for another nail-biter.
From that point on, the Towson lead fluctuated, but it never eclipsed eight points again, and the Dragons were able to take the lead on a Derrick Thomas jumper with 3:56 left in the game. Thomas had nine of his 13 points in the second half and was a key part of the Dragons’ comeback effort. They pushed toward taking the lead as he scored six points in just 1:37 of game time.
But, just one possession later, the lead had flip-flopped back to the Tigers, this time for good.
The Dragons had the ball with 10 seconds remaining, down by just two points, a chance to tie and go to overtime against one of the conference’s premier teams on the line. After two layups missed in rapid succession, Kazembe Abif was able to draw a foul with just two seconds remaining.
He proceeded to miss the first foul shot. Not ideal, but salvageable. All you need is a well-placed intentional miss from Abif followed by a quick tip-in.
But then, of course, he made the second foul shot.
As Flint put it, what are you going to do?
But the Dragons took a few days off, let the sting fade and marched on to Norfolk, Va., for a Feb. 28 matchup against Old Dominion University.
Apparently Drexel learned a lesson after the slow start against Towson and came out on fire against ODU. They made four of their first five shots, including three from beyond the arc. Damion Lee scored eight points in the first three minutes to give the Dragons an 11-2 lead.
And the Lee narrative continued from there. He went the entire first half without missing a single shot, scoring 24 points on 9-for-9 shooting, including 6-for-6 from three-point land.
All anybody watching the game could say was “wow.” Especially because this was following Lee’s first game against Old Dominion, in which he was held scoreless the entire game.
Yet even an otherworldly performance from Lee wasn’t enough to give the Dragons an easy win. He cooled off in the second half, and when the rest of the team wasn’t there to pick up the slack offensively, the Monarchs went on a spurt of their own to tie the game at 59.
But as soon as the game was tied up, Lee came back to life. The tie was a psychological smelling salt for the sophomore, who quickly scored seven of the Dragons’ next nine points as they opened up a nine-point lead with a 10-1 run.
He finished with 34 points, a career high. And of course, not to be labeled just a scorer, Lee also happened to pick up 10 rebounds on the night, the highest tally in the game.
It was the most impressive performance by any Dragon this year, and they used every single point of it, as they held off Old Dominion 81-77.
So, at 12-17, the team’s season draws down to one game. They’re one game under .500 for the conference with the University of North Carolina Wilmington on the schedule for March 2, the senior night at the DAC.
The Seahawks are led by Keith Rendleman, one of the unsung studs of the CAA this year. Rendleman averages 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and poses a similar threat to what Jerrelle Benimon did to the Dragons earlier this week. The inside game will probably determine the end result of Saturday’s contest and the attitude that the Dragons take with them into the CAA Tournament. Will it be a two-game win streak? Or 1-3 in their last four?
Either way, the Dragons need a good performance to keep morale up as their final chance for the Big Dance looms. If Lee can play like he did against ODU, the Dragons will have all the confidence they need. If not?
Welcome to their season.