The early stages of the season for a young team can prove to be a mixed bag. Flashes of promise raise hopes for the immediate future, only to be countered by humbling disappointments that oh so quickly temper expectations back to more realistic levels.
Such has been the case over the last few weeks for the Drexel University men’s basketball team, who still seem to be finding their sea legs with new head coach Zach Spiker at the helm. After an encouraging second weekend of the college basketball season, in which the Dragons reeled off two victories in a row, they just as quickly returned to the form that caused them to start off the season 0-2.
On Nov. 18, this new-look Drexel squad opened up in front of a packed Daskalakis Athletic Center to prove that the shortcomings of the last few years were buried firmly in the past. And turn some heads they certainly did.
While shooting struggles in the first half largely stymied their offensive attack, senior Rodney Williams stepped up in a big way to keep his team in the game, epitomized in an impressive one minute sequence just five minutes into the game.
After a dunk brought the student section to its feet, the senior stepped up to take a charge on the other end of the floor. Then, on the very next possession, Williams streaked across the lane and hammered home an emphatic 2-handed slam while being fouled by a Hartford defender, unleashing a roar into the crowd.
In the second half, Williams passed the torch to his younger teammate, freshman Kurk Lee, who continued his hot start to the year. He shook off a turnover-laden first half to pour in 16 in the second period, spearheading an efficient 58-percent attack that outscored Hartford University by 11 and put Drexel’s first win firmly away.
Just three days later, the Dragons travelled to the University of North Texas to face the Mean Green in the final chapter of the Scarlet Knight Showcase. Drexel jumped all over NT Nov. 21 and never looked back, outscoring them 30-12 in the final 10 minutes of the first half to set up a comfortable margin for the rest of the game.
Once again, it was Williams who led the way with another 20-point effort to go along with five assists and six rebounds. Junior frontcourt-mate Austin Williams added 13 on a perfect 6-6 shooting. The 83-62 victory pulled the Dragons back to .500 and gave the impression that Spiker’s group was beginning to hit its stride.
In their next game against Niagara University, a strong showing by Drexel would be overwhelmed by exemplary shooting, especially behind the 3 point line. Despite career highs in points from Austin Williams (16, on another efficient 7-8 effort) and assists from Kurk Lee (seven), there simply is not much that any team can do when they allow their opponent to shoot an astounding 83 percent from 3-point range. Overall, the Purple Eagles feasted on a porous Drexel defense, especially in the second half, where 60 percent shooting enabled a 1 point halftime lead to balloon to 19 by game’s end.
This poor perimeter defense was exposed once again in the team’s most recent matchup against inner-city rival LaSalle University. The Explorers shot threes at an impressive 62 percent clip, a factor that allowed them to turn away Kurk Lee’s furious second half runs.
All told, the freshman appears to be the real deal, which is a good sign for Drexel fans who have waited for a dynamic guard to try to fill the large shoes that another Lee, Damion Lee, left upon his departure a few years ago. Lee finished with 21 points and five assists, and continues to show his quickness and playmaking ability, especially in transition.
Junior Sammy Mojica chipped in with 15 points and eight boards, but the Explorers, led by Jordan Price’s 20 points, hung on despite a 14-6 run by Drexel down the stretch that made this one more interesting than it had been for much of the contest.
With seven games remaining before the critical start to the CAA schedule, it seems as though consistency will be the key for this young team as it builds on lessons learned in the early going. Look for a steady diet of Kurk Lee and Rodney Williams to anchor the attack going forward while Miles Overton and Sammy Mojica continue to find their shooting stroke for the Dragons.
They will have an opportunity to once again right the ship against High Point University Dec. 3.