It could have been all of the festive Homecoming week activities, the pregame presentation of senior guard Tavon Allen’s 1000th career point ball or Pennsylvania announcer Dan Baker’s familiar vocals that resonated throughout the noticeably more crowded Daskalakis Athletic Center. It could have been the first possession of the game, when Rodney Williams converted an offensive rebound into a thunderous one-handed slam. Or it could have simply been that sensation of free pregame pizza settling into your stomach. Regardless of the reason, there was something about the Drexel University’s Jan. 30th matchup with Hofstra that just felt different.
Maybe that’s why the same result stung that much more.
The Dragons entered the game trying to shake off a disappointing loss to a formidable Towson University Tigers team just days before. For fans of local basketball, this one was extra special: Drexel’s Rashann London (Roman Catholic) and Towson’s John Davis (Neumann Goretti) on the same floor evoked memories of high school battles between perennial Philadelphia Catholic League powers.
The local kids were not the story come game time, however: rather it was the pace of the Towson guards, spearheaded by the speedy Byron Hawkins’s game-high 23 points, who were able to wear down Drexel and pull out a win in the second half. The Dragons led on and off for much of the contest, buoyed by to the energy of big man Kazembe Abif and the outside shooting of Sammy Mojica, but the unrelenting attack of Hawkins and Co. proved to be too much in the long run. The final was heartbreaking: a 77-70 defeat.
Admittedly, this matchup seemed a little lopsided going in. At 16-6 (second in the Colonial Athletic Conference), Hofstra University featured a trio of guards that had season averages that nearly surpassed that of Drexel’s entire starting five.
But the Dragons were not intimidated by the Pride, nor discouraged by previous close losses that have plagued them all year. They came out and punched Hofstra in the mouth early, dissecting a patchy zone for plenty of open shots on the offensive end of the floor. By the time Sammy Mojica scored a three rattled home at the 5:37 mark of the first half, the lead was 27-16.
However, as good teams tend to do, Hofstra made a run coming out of halftime, slicing the lead to three with a Brian Bernardi three pointer. Then, to the delight of the Drexel faithful, the Tavon Allen show began. After a beautiful coast-to-coast drive by Kazembe Abif, Allen knocked down a deep three pointer from the wing, then used an excellent shot fake to free himself for a wide open jump shot on the proceeding possession to give Drexel its largest lead of the game: 47-34.
Unfortunately for Drexel, Hofstra had a talented senior guard of their own. Juan’ya Green, coming into the game averaging just under 18 points, struggled scoring throughout the afternoon, but time and time again proved to be the a catalyst for a sputtering Pride offense. Two gorgeous no-look feeds to cutting teammates, the latter to reserve forward Andre Walker for a powerful two-handed finish, altered the momentum of the game.
And yet, it still seemed like Allen might have just enough magic to give his team the win. His three pointer and two free throws brought Drexel to within one. Then, after a pair of Rudy Gustys foul shots, Allen came off a Williams screen for an off-balance, game-tying triple with 1:21 remaining. If something was truly different about this game, it was clear that he was feeling it as well: he played inspired, wearing his emotions very clearly on his sleeve as the Dragons desperately struggled to hold on for an important win.
But in the end, maybe Allen wanted this one just a bit too much. Down three with under a minute to go, he took on a triple team and turned it over on the game’s critical possession, leading to the deciding foul shots that would put the contest out of reach. His season-high 33 points were in vain, as Hofstra extended the final score at the free throw line to 70-64.
One thing is for sure: Drexel is clearly able to play with some of the CAA’s best. Now it’s up to Bruiser Flint to figure out a way to get his group to finish out a win. They’ll have their next opportunity to do so Feb. 4 when they face James Madison University at the DAC.