C.J. Aiken — pause for effect. That name will be ringing in the ears of Bruiser Flint’s players for many days to come. In fact, if — and that’s a big if — any of the Dragons are able to get some shuteye in the near future, Aiken will be there as well, haunting their dreams.
Setting the scene for the Dragons’ nightmares was their 62-49 loss at St. Joseph’s University Nov. 30 for their first game post Paradise Jam. As usual, Drexel outrebounded the opponent, but unlike when they defeated the Hawks 62-50 at home last season, they were unable to capitalize on those second-chance opportunities — and there were a plethora as the Dragons totaled 18 offensive boards, outrebounding the Hawks 40-37.
“We had 18 offensive rebounds, and that’s a lot of rebounds. We shot 31 percent — that’s the difference,” Flint said during the postgame press conference. “Last year when we got the rebounds, we put them back in. You’ve got to finish plays, and we didn’t finish enough plays. You can’t shoot 30 percent and win the game.”
As bad as the Dragons were from the field — they shot 20-64 for the game (31.3 percent) — it wasn’t as if the Hawks were too dominating either, shooting 44 percent for the game.
It all began in the first half as it was an offensive clinic — or lack thereof — as the Dragons shot just 28.6 percent from the field (8-for-28), and although the Hawks led, they weren’t much better as they shot 38.5 percent. It was also a sloppy first half of play with a combined 16 turnovers between the two teams — nine for Drexel.
It seemed as though every time the Dragons were able to get anything going, Aiken would break loose in transition — most likely off of a Drexel turnover — and slam home a lob, exciting the crowd with a ferocious alley-oop.
The Dragons fell into a lull toward the middle of the first half, and that continued into the locker room. Drexel held an 18-16 lead with 8:44 remaining in the half. Junior forward Daryl McCoy would shoot one of two at the line toward the end of the first, making that the only point the Dragons would register until the buzzer. The Hawks closed the first half on a 14-1 run, leading the Dragons into the locker room 30-19.
“[Aiken] blocked a lot of shots, but I thought we should have went to the line more. … I thought there were some ones in there that we didn’t get, actually I thought they got them,” Flint said of the Dragons’ lack of foul shot opportunities. Drexel was 1-of-5 from the charity stripe for the game. “But that’s what happens when you have a shot blocker. Now [the referees] think he’s blocking them.”
Flint mentioned Aiken blocking shots, and that was really the story of the game. As the final whistle came, the 6-foot-9 sophomore totaled 13 points and a career-high-tying nine blocked shots. He also helped the Hawks to a school-record 16 total blocked shots.
“I think when you have a shot blocker like that, [those plays are worth more than two points],” Flint said. “I thought we missed some easy [shots] even before he started blocking them. … When you have a shot blocker, guys don’t like to go in there.”
Flint and company could not be more thankful for the half to end. Then began the second half of this City Six matchup.
Fortunately for Drexel, the Hawks came out flat to start the second half, and the Dragons were able to go on a 5-0 run out of the locker room. Unfortunately for the Dragons, St. Joe’s was not to be denied, as they came right back with a nice little run of their own, helped by Derrick Thomas’ third personal foul of the contest. This was also aided by some poor decision making by the Dragons.
“We just did such awful things in such big parts of the game, and then they took advantage of it,” Flint said. “We cut it down to start the second half. We throw the ball out of bounds and they hit a three. We crushed ourselves. I keep telling my guys, ‘self-inflicted wounds’; we just absolutely murder ourselves out there sometimes.”
The Dragons were unable to mount any sort of run in the second as the Hawks held them off for the remainder of the contest, eventually subbing in “the victory squad” with 50 seconds remaining in the game, consisting of four bench players as well as the team’s lone walk-on.
There was one bright spot for the Dragons as junior guard Chris Fouch saw his first action of the season, playing 15 minutes. His first point on the season came with just over 15 minutes remaining in the second as he scored five points on 2-of-10 shooting.
The next game for the Dragons will be in Newark, Del. Dec. 3 against Colonial Athletic Association rival University of Delaware for their first conference game of the season.