Drexel Begins to Right Ship With 69-58 Win Over DavidsonPosted by IRenko on December 23rd, 2012
I. Renko is an RTC correspondent and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Satuday night’s game between Davidson and Drexel.
After Drexel’s 69-58 win over Davidson on Saturday night, head coach Bruiser Flint minced no words when talking about his team’s disappointing play to that point. “I’ve been telling the team, honestly, that I’m actually surprised that [our losses] have been as close as they are. That’s how bad we’ve been. We’ve had our opportunities to actually win some of these games, and we’ve been horrible.” But with conference play on the near horizon, the CAA’s preseason favorite took a strong step in the right direction on Saturday night, improving its record to 4-7 before 1,879 fans at the Daskalaikis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.
Sophomore guard Damion Lee, the Dragons’ leading scorer, hadn’t practiced all week because of a foot injury, but came off the bench to pace the team with 26 points on 8-of-17 of shooting. Senior point Frantz Massenat added 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting. But it was Drexel’s renewed commitment to defensive toughness that earned their coach’s praise after the game. “We finally got back to guarding people,” Flint said. “That was the key right there.” Flint’s Drexel teams have been known for their tight, physical defense, but they’ve allowed more than a point per possession this year. The last time the Dragons gave up more than a point per possession over the course of a season was 2005. When asked if he saw some of the passion and toughness that had been missing from previous games, a relieved Flint declared: “Yeah, it’s about time. We haven’t been seeing that in some of the other games, we’ve been back on the heels. We didn’t play on our heels. We came up with some tough stops, dug some balls out, stuff like that. We made some tough plays.”
If Drexel is to turn things around, they’ll also need Massenat and Lee, their leading scorers, to provide both floor leadership and offensive firepower. The burden on the two players grew especially heavy when senior guard Chris Fouch suffered a season-ending ankle injury in mid-November. On Saturday night, Massenat and Lee handled the pressure with steadiness and ease, repeatedly coming up with big plays just when it seemed like Davidson was about to get a key stop. With 10:46 left in the game, Lee hit a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down to give the Dragons their biggest lead, 52-40. After Davidson rallied to narrow the lead to 52-48, Massenat duplicated the feat, draining a trey at the end of the shot clock to push the lead back to seven with 4:23 to play. Two minutes later, Lee saved a lost possession with an offensive rebound and followed up with a nifty baseline drive and finish to keep the Dragons up 59-53. On the ensuing possession, Massenat went for the jugular, shaking off his defender and nailing a jumper with five ticks left on the shot clock to push the lead to 61-53 with 1:26 to play.
That kind of patience is what makes the Dragons go. In an era when players and coaches alike boast about their teams’ ability to run and gun, Drexel is the rare team that takes pride in its ability to ground and pound. The Dragons plays a slow, bruising style, using their physicality to wear out opponents and patiently squeezing the shot clock on both ends of the floor. Last year, the Dragons averaged an adjusted 60.9 possessions per game, 12th slowest in Division I basketball. This year, they’re averaging 61.8 per possession — eighth slowest. The Dragons also have a knack for extending their possessions with offensive rebounds. For the past five years, they’ve rebounded more than 34 percent of their misses. Against Davidson, Drexel dominated the glass with a 41-14 rebounding margin. Not only did Drexel rebound more than 80 percent of its own missed shots, they rebounded almost 70 percent of Davidson’s misses. Despite their deliberate style, the Dragons’ offense leaves plenty of room for individual players to shine, as it works to free up the guards and wings to attack the basket or pull up for jumpers. Lee entered Saturday night’s game with a 17.6 point per game average, good for third in the CAA.
The Dragons know a different kind of patience too. Last year, they started the season with a mediocre 2-4 mark. They then rolled off 25 wins in their next 26 games before losing in the CAA Tournament final and falling just short of an at-large bid. But Lee isn’t looking to last year’s tremendous run for inspiration. “Last year, that was spectacular,” he said. “[But] that was something that can’t be duplicated. This year, we just have to take it one game at a time.” Lee’s coach is also focused less on conference titles, Tournament bids, and season win totals than on simply getting his team to play better, game by game. “I just want to see us play better,” Flint remarked. “If we play better, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win like we did tonight. That’s the biggest thing, forget about everything else. We have not played well, we have been horrible. We did tonight what we have not done all season long. If we start doing that, we’ll get some wins.”