Final Score: UNCW 107, Drexel 87
Drexel Player of the Game: Troy Harper, 21 points
Next Game: Friday, Jan. 5 7 p.m. vs. College of Charleston
UNCW played fast, controlled the glass and hit open shots Tuesday night in Trask Coliseum. For the second game in a row, Drexel allowed a CAA opponent to score a staggering 1.32 points per possession. UNCW ripped off a 16-2 run midway through first half to create a double-digit margin, cruised to a 17-point halftime lead and the Dragons never threatened in the second half.
“I thought tonight’s game was up-tempo and played to the strengths of Wilmington,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. “They hurt us on the glass and they shot it better than they have. They hit a lot of shots that were open that they missed in other games. Tonight they made them. We need to look at ourselves and see what we can do better. I think (Wilmington is) a good basketball team and … capable of doing this any given night. I do think our effort on the defensive end and our focus needs to be better on the offensive end.”
Drexel had success early feeding post players Austin Williams (9 points) and Alihan Demir (12 points on 7 of 12). But during the Seahawks’ run, the Dragons fell into a familiar pattern, hoisting rushed shots from the mid-range or committing silly turnovers to fuel the Seahawks’ break and bring the studentless Trask crowd of 3,367 fans into the game.
UNCW, which had not defeated a Division I team since Nov. 14, had been waiting for a game where the outcome was never in doubt. The Seahawks hit 30 of 45 2-pointers and 26 of 34 free throws. They rebounded an impressive 44 percent of their missed shots and scored 21 points off those second chances. UNCW crashed the offensive glass with multiple players and often simply beat the Dragons to the basketball to improve to 4-10 and 1-1 in the CAA. After a slow start, Devontae Cacok dominated on the backboards and around the basket, posting his 10th double-double of the season – 23 points and 16 rebounds.
“Devontae is unique,” UNCW coach C.B. McGrath said. “I’ve coached nobody like him To have an appetite to rebound like he does, I’m just very fortunate he’s on my team.”
Spiker wasn’t entirely unpleased with an offensive performance that produced 1.07 points per possession. Several Dragons had fine nights on that end of the floor.
Kurk Lee scored 22 points on 8 of 12 shooting but also committed five turnovers. Troy Harper, in his second game back after missing eight with a separated shoulder, played his best game yet in a Drexel uniform. He drove the lane and drew fouls, scoring 21 points, and was the bright spot on an otherwise dismal night, hitting his first three free throws to set the school record with 36 in a row (He missed two). Demir continued his strong play, scoring in double figures for the fifth consecutive game. Drexel’s leading scorer Tramaine Isabell dressed and participated in warmups but missed his third consecutive game with a groin injury.
Drexel simply couldn’t keep up with a team that scored at will and produced 11 3-point possessions, coming on shots from beyond-the- arc, fouls drawn on attempts and and-1 opportunities. There were 81 possessions in the game – easily the most for Drexel in a regulation game against a D-I opponent this season – and the brisk tempo favored the Seahawks, who thrive in transition, running their secondary break to create open shots as defenders scramble to cover their man. UNCW doesn’t apply fullcourt pressure like it did the last three championship seasons under coach Kevin Keatts, however, the Seahawks are 34th in the nation in average offensive possession length (15.3 seconds) and easily play at the fastest tempo of any CAA team.
“Sometimes shot selection can lead to quick possessions and it can lead to runouts,” Spiker said. “Clearly (UNCW) is a team that’s comfortable playing up-tempo, regardless of who the coach is so there’s some continuity. Early on we had a couple of possessions … offensive rebounds … kick out for a 3. Plays early on that established a tempo and tone in their favor. We need to do a better job of making plays.”
While it’s difficult to assess Drexel’s potential at this point because one of the more talented players in the CAA never removed his warmups, this much is clear: If Drexel doesn’t show more resolve on the defensive end and fight on the glass, it’s going to be a long season in Philadelphia.
The Dragons have a solid frontcourt tandem. Demir has a soft touch around the basket and hit an open 3-pointer as the trailer in transition. Early foul trouble limited Williams to 24 minutes (he was disqualified with 5:04 remaining) yet the senior is big, strong and experienced enough to match and battle most, if not all, CAA post players. With the return of Harper and eventually, Isabell, the Dragons possess enough perimeter firepower to have four or five players score in double figures in any game. That kind of balance means offensive success.
But the defense was a half-step slow to close out and unable to end possessions by snaring defensive rebounds. A team can’t expect to win a game when it allows 107 points. UNCW deserves credit for hitting the shots from the field and the line and continually applying game pressure by keeping its side of the scoreboard in motion. With preseason league favorite and league co-leader College of Charleston coming to the DAC on Friday, the 0-2 Dragons better solve their issues quickly or any hopes of avoiding the first day of the CAA tournament will
vanish in the season’s opening weeks.