Right now the Drexel University men’s basketball team is a beat-up jalopy. On Jan. 5 it rolled up and down the floor at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, pretending for 20 minutes that it could stay with the fuel-efficient coupe of the College of William & Mary. Then, just as swiftly as it began the night, the patchwork machine broke down at midcourt, steaming from the hood, out of gas. The green-and-white coupe kept right on rolling, up and down the court, plenty left in the tank, until it crossed the finish line with the old jalopy miles in the well-polished rearview mirror.
“I think they ran out of gas a little bit,” Tony Shaver, William & Mary head coach, said afterwards. “We got some stops and rebounds and got our running game going a little bit, and I think they ran out of gas a little bit, maybe.”
The Dragons jumped to a quick 12-3 lead in the opening minutes of the Monday night matchup, and led by four points with 3:43 to play in the first half.
But William & Mary closed the opening stanza with an 11-2 run, fueled by a pair of three-pointers from star senior guard Marcus Thornton that flipped a one-point Dragons lead into a five-point deficit at the break.
That three-minute collapse turned into a 23-minute destruction, as the Tribe out-scored Drexel 50-20 after junior guard Damion Lee hit a three-pointer to give the Dragons a 27-23 lead with 3:43 to play in the first half.
“One of our big things is, play with some poise,” head coach James “Bruiser” Flint said after the game. “We don’t have to rush, let’s take our time.
“And in the last three minutes of the first half, boom.”
That was the sound of the Dragons’ engine kicking, gasping for any signs of life. The team lost its poise, and the team lost the game.
Flint tried to stem the tide at halftime, noticing his players had started to lose their composure but still hoping he could fix the problem before the emergency gas-light led to a smoldering wreck.
“We talked about it at halftime,” Flint explained. “We said, ‘So guys, we lost our minds for the last three minutes. Let’s not come out and do the same thing.’ And we did.
“The next thing you know, it’s over.”
Boom. Hissing from the engine. Another game, another loss, the Dragons’ seventh straight, the longest of Flint’s 14-year career at Drexel.
Lee tried his best to keep the Dragons afloat, scoring 18 points on six of 13 shooting. Lee scored 14 of his points in the first half, including knocking down four three-pointers, trying to keep the jalopy in stride with William & Mary’s sleeker machine.
But Thornton always proved to be one step ahead, finishing the game with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and knocking down five three-pointers. Near the end of the first half Thornton was matched up with Lee, one-on-one, in the right corner of the floor. Thornton head-faked Lee halfway to the three-point arc, opening up a wide-open three, which he sunk.
William & Mary’s coupe purred into halftime, while Drexel clunked into the locker room.
The head coach of the Tribe, Tony Shaver, said he feels bad for Flint and the Dragons at this point. With four players sidelined for at least the next month, at least two out for the year, Drexel is shorthanded.
And when mismatches come, they come heavy and hard against the Dragons.
“They’re hurt a little bit right now,” Shaver said. “I think they’re trying to piece it together. I feel for them there. They’ve got some good players not in uniform. I think some guys that they counted on being backups are now starters. That’s a hard situation.”
But Shaver and the Tribe didn’t show any mercy on their hosts. He pushed the pedal to the floor, a fast machine intentionally speeding up early in the race to push the jalopy, already gasping in its final throes, over the edge for good.
“We love to push the ball and we have the talent to push the ball,” Shaver explained. “But we did want to push it even more tonight knowing they didn’t have a lot of bodies.”
The Tribe exploited the Dragons for what they are after 13 games of brutal, slow-burning basketball. With injuries galore and a young roster, Drexel didn’t have the talent to compete with William & Mary for 40 minutes. That didn’t mean they wouldn’t try, and Flint even said after the game that he thought his team showed signs of growth.
“We’ve played better for longer stretches with each game, I think,” Flint admitted. “Now, we’ve got to try to keep it going. We can’t just play 18 good minutes. Eighteen’s got to be 30.
“Even in the last game, we played a good stretch, then boom, we fall apart.”
Engine, kicking it.
“Today we played probably a little longer, then boom, we fall apart.”
“We’ve got to try to play longer stretches. That’s what I’m trying to get the young guys to understand. You’ve got to play longer stretches of decent basketball, and we just haven’t been able to do it.”
When you bring a broken down vehicle to race against this year’s model, that’s what will happen — every time.