“At the end… I don’t think we kept our composure like we had at other times [in the game]” said Coach Spiker after his team fell, 66-59 in the CAA Tournament. And it seems a fair statement at face value.
His Dragons, if you’re reading this, likely your Dragons, had just 16 hours between games, were playing a de facto road game in a “neutral” arena, and the shots simply didn’t fall all afternoon, to the tune of 16.7% shooting from outside the three point arc. Despite all of that it took a late burst from CAA regular season champion College of Charleston Cougars to grab this game, and a chance to advance, from the Dragons. Charleston took advantage of Drexel putting in a smaller lineup for parts of the second half, and perhaps losing some of that composure to gain an advantage on the boards. They added 5-9 shooting from three to complete the comeback, including a late dagger from Grant Riller with just 46 seconds to play.
The truth is, this season the Dragons team spent a lot of the year trailing in games. They know how to come back from as far down as you can put em. They know of the composure and discipline that it takes, and yesterday when folks all but counted them out against James Madison they stuck to that script. Playing from in front is a more foreign concept. And when in front of the conference favorite, they did lose their composure for brief moments. A couple big plays, some silly shots and allowing some offensive boards may well have cost them the game, and the season. But with all of those headwinds going against them, facing the CAA’s best on short rest on the road, they were leading with ten minutes to play. Some will remember the collapse.
Those that were at Robert Morris, or NJIT, or Loyola, or at the DAC for the season opener against Bowling Green will remember a very different story.
Coach Spiker isn’t wrong very often when speaking to the press, but he was wrong today. This team didn’t lose their composure late, they found it late. When they started the season, they didn’t have any at all. This team found it’s composure after a slow start, injuries, lackadaisical efforts and a lack of belief from many outside the locker room.
They CAA season opened with just one win in their first eight games. Yet this Dragons team arrived at the tournament having missed a bye by just a bucket, and as the team that no one wanted to play. Because once the calendar flipped to February, and the team was healthy, they had composure and a lot more. They were a threat. Both as a team and individually.
Kurk Lee, who has struggled down the stretch amid the success of his team, was the guy who got his team there today. His 7-11 effort from the field along with three assist and five steals put the Dragons in the position they were in. Coming off being shutout less than twenty four hours ago the 5’9″ point guard showed his teammates what resiliency was all about. And then there was their leader, who, alongside Tramaine Isabell was the embodiment of the rising force that this program was searching so hard to find early in the season.
Coach Spiker wanted to be clear about his thoughts on that leader, the teams captain, Austin Williams. “I’m very proud of his individual growth. Bruiser Flint recruited… a high character man who works hard. As he got older, he got better. When he got better, we became one of the toughest teams to play against in the league.”
Austin’s shoes will be hard to fill when the page flips to the next season. And while the team loses Austin, what they showed this weekend is what they may have gained late this season: Composure. They now have an identity and a formula to work from. A true foundation for what Drexel Basketball can be on the floor. And if they build off of that, then this time next year they might be a little more used to playing with that lead. And just as dangerous.