The Drexel men’s basketball team marched seven players into the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and led the College of Charleston by six points at halftime.
But as admirable as the shorthanded effort was, the team’s lack of depth ultimately did the Dragons in as they squandered a first-half advantage, falling to the College of Charleston in the first round, 56-48, March 6. The loss ended the Dragons’ season.
A 29-point first half yielded an exhausted seven-man lineup in the second half. The inevitability of a criminally short bench took its toll on the Dragons in the final throes of the loss.
“I thought we had good effort,” head coach James “Bruiser” Flint said after the game. “[We] just ran out of gas. What are you going to do? [We] ran out of gas. [Charleston] did a good job of making us play full court pretty the whole game, especially on offense.”
The Cougars implemented a press defense in the first minutes of the game, and it became clear that their game plan was bent on wearing the Dragons down. Charleston head coach Earl Grant admitted as much after the game, and sophomore guard Canyon Barry said his team felt like the game got a little easier as it went on.
“We were trying to keep the intensity up in the second half,” senior guard Freddie Wilson said afterwards, “but we came short in the end a little bit.”
Wilson, who scored 17 points in the final game of his collegiate career, tried to stem the tide of Charleston’s comeback, but tired legs led to poor play.
With the game tied, 46-46, and 2:42 to play, Wilson found himself wide open at the three-point arc. He set his feet and let go his ninth three-point attempt of the evening, but the ball missed everything. It bounced out of bounds, and Wilson turned to trot down the court. Junior guard Tavon Allen gave Wilson a hug before Charleston inbounded the ball.
Wilson said after the game that he knew as soon as he took the shot that it had no chance.
“I didn’t really get off my feet even,” Wilson admitted. “I knew my legs were done.”
The Cougars would score 10 of the final 12 points of the game.
Drexel owned a steady molehill of an advantage for the majority of the first half thanks to a hot start, as the Dragons hit five of their first eight shots. The Cougars missed eight of their first 10, surrendering a 14-5 lead midway through the first stanza.
From there, the two squads traded body blows in an extremely even end to the half.
At the break, both teams had 16 rebounds and 10 points in the paint. The Dragons had five turnovers to the Cougars’ six, and Charleston had four assists to Drexel’s three, but the play was an even split. After Charleston’s Joe Chealey missed two of three free throws with 0.1 seconds to play in the first half, Drexel took a 29-23 lead into the locker room.
Tavon Allen scored 11 points in the first half to lead all scorers, knocking down a three pointer and all six of his free throw attempts. Evan Bailey’s seven points and six rebounds kept the Cougars within striking distance.
After taking a six-point lead into halftime, the Dragons traded free throws for field goals in the first eight minutes of the second half, a recipe that didn’t bode well for Flint’s squad. Allen and company couldn’t hit many field goals, going six-for-19 in the second half, but they could get to the line.
Yet when the Dragons went to the charity stripe, they weren’t hitting with their regular aplomb. The best free throw-shooting team in the conference during the regular season, the Dragons knocked down just 13 of 21 free throw attempts against the Cougars.
Eventually, the cold streak caught up with Drexel. An Anthony Stitt three-pointer with 9:15 to play in the game gave Charleston its first lead of the game, 42-41. From there, it was all Charleston.
Flint said after the game that he was pleased with the way his team fought. It wasn’t easy to play with just seven players in the final three games of the year, especially without the best player on the team.
“The guys were good,” Flint said. “They never quit. We had a lot of things happen to us this year. Every time we had some momentum, someone goes out. I give the guys a lot of credit because they just kept playing hard.”
And the veteran head coach had a message for his players, besides Wilson, as they turn their attention to next season.
“I said, ‘Yo, get ready,’” Flint explained. “Because everybody but [Wilson] is back. I told the guys that we’re not going to just have seven guys next year. I sent a little message to a couple of guys.