The Dragons finally had a legitimate winning streak. They had shut down one of the premier freshmen in the country, the freshman who now holds the highest single-game point total in the country for his class.
And then in came the University of Delaware.
As recounted last week, the rivalry game against Delaware was a crushing defeat for the men’s basketball team, but their rebound against George Mason University was extremely reassuring for the squad moving forward with only nine games left. Maybe they could keep the momentum rolling as they finished their run of tough games?
Well, they certainly gave it their best effort.
In fact, as late as 35 minutes into the Dragons’ following game against Northeastern University, their first of two contests this past week, they had a chance to take the lead against the top team in the Colonial Athletic Association. And that was with Damion Lee having hit just one shot to that point.
But then reality came crashing down in a hurry, and their one-point deficit turned into a seven-point loss. It was a tough loss for the men; being within one point of the Huskies with just five minutes in the game and Lee having an off game after scoring 59 points in the previous two contests, they have to think that it was a game they could have won.
The ultimate flaw in the Dragons’ system in the Feb. 2 loss was their team shooting. Forward Dartaye Ruffin led the team in scoring for most of the game and was the only starter to finish with a field-goal percentage above 50 percent on the night.
Ruffin, who has had a great season this year in stepping up for the graduated Samme Givens, actually recorded his first double-double of the season in the game. Going forward, the biggest thing he needs to work on is his inside scoring; he has missed too many two-foot shots over defenders down low. But he has become the premier rebounder for this Dragons team and was their best player against Northeastern.
The rest of the team shot 30.4 percent from the field, an unacceptable mark when you’re playing the best team in your conference. And yet their defense, still a trademark of this team, kept them in it until the final five minutes.
Unfortunately for the Dragons, that same exact defense was a key part of their downfall in what was possibly their most frustrating loss of the season Feb. 7 against Old Dominion University in the subsequent contest.
Against the worst team in the CAA, Drexel allowed 78 points, including 48 in a disheartening second half. Those 78 were the most points that the team has given up since the second game of the season, and that game against Illinois State University (also a loss) went to overtime, so there were five more minutes played.
In short: the team is coming apart at the seams.
Frantz Massenat shouldered the load early on when the rest of the offense seemed purely out of sync, hitting runners and jumpers from the elbow. But even he succumbed to the off-kilter performance in the first half, missing all three free throws after being fouled behind the arc, which is inexplicable, as Massenat is the best foul shooter on the team.
What was even more startling, however, was the performance of Lee. As mentioned earlier, Lee racked up 59 points in the two matchups preceding this week’s games. In these two, Lee wasn’t even able to muster 10. His offensive production had been heating up as of late, lobbying him into a late race for the conference MVP.
But after these last two games, Lee might not even be the Dragons’ MVP anymore. His inconsistent play has been painfully difficult to predict at times. Of course, that can be said of anybody on Drexel’s squad, if not the unit as a whole.
After the comeback victory against George Mason, they had managed to rally behind a 4-2 stretch, including the first win streak of the season, to draw within three games of a .500 record. Sure, they had a big opponent looming in Northeastern. But momentum was on their side.
Now, two games later, they sit at 9-14, having just lost to an Old Dominion team that entered the game with a .090 winning percentage and had fired its head coach less than three days earlier.
And they’re not getting a break. Next up on the schedule is a grueling test against the James Madison University Dukes, who enter the game with the second-best record in the CAA and could be the deepest, least predictable squad that the Dragons meet all year.
Rayshawn Goins leads the Dukes with 13.4 points per game, but after him it’s anybody’s best guess who will step up on a given night. Which, in a sense, makes the defense’s job easier: Just guard whoever is on fire.
But it also makes it more difficult. Without a true-blue vision of how the Dukes’ offense will shake out, the beginning of the game will be tough. If the Dragons hold them early on in the contest, it should be a good game. If not …?
Well, we all witnessed what happens when they can’t contain the opponent’s best player. In fact, we’ve witnessed it far too many times this year.
Which is why, at 9-14, the Dragons might finally have been slain.