“The Comeback” Was So Much More than a Comeback

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When you follow Drexel — not a team like Drexel, but Drexel specifically — certain numbers
from past years are sometimes hard to come by. There aren’t countless websites dedicated to
the history of this program, or even its current state. The school’s own media guide didn’t have
its largest comeback prior to Thursday night, likely through no fault of their own: since Drexel is
one of the oldest college basketball programs in the country, there are kind of a lot of archives to
leaf through, very few of them digitized.

So when you find a number that you know is absolutely a program record, whether that’s fewest
points scored in a half (10, twice) or most threes in a game (9, once) you sort of put aside your
allegiances, whether they’re as a fan to the team, or as a journalist to the truth, and start to root
for the narrative. It’s a chance to watch an insignificant program do something significant, and to
write its own story with a little more certainty.

On Thursday night, when Drexel completed the largest comeback win in the history of Division I
college basketball against Delaware, we had no frame of reference for history. All we had was
the frame of the moment:

1. It was a home game, a gold jersey game against the program’s most disliked rival.
2. Drexel sat near the basement of the CAA, but still had a chance to snag a first-round bye.
3. Tramaine Isabell would likely become the fourteenth member of the 500-point club.

The night began with short-term, and small-scale, history at stake. The Dragons have reached
the semifinals of the CAA tournament just once since 2008; a bye would put this flawed-yet-
explosive team one step closer to that goal, which meant a win was key. Isabell would indeed
go on to join the 500-point club, but his legacy from the night would be much larger than a
single-season points ledger. And a home environment lacking the recent weeks needed
something, anything, to cheer for.

Everything was successful in the short-term — Isabell hit his mark, every other game around the
conference broke the right way, the home crowd woke up — but none of that mattered as Drexel
started to mount its comeback. The feat seemed unlikely for the entire second half. I said even
cutting the former 34-point lead to single digits would be a victory for Zach Spiker and his staff;
being able to rally a team mired in a four-game losing streak, getting its doors blown off in an
indifferent arena, would be a great piece of coaching.

When it reached single-digits with on Sammy Mojica’s free throw, and then Troy Harper turned a
Kurk Lee steal into two points, I opened up the team’s media guide and started digging for that
elusive comeback figure, but then Mojica stole a ball and threw it behind his back as he crashed
into the bench, and Harper did the same as he flew past the baseline, and Isabell caught the
ball and time stood still as he stepped back into three of his 29 points, and when he fist-pumped
near the Dragon logo at center court I didn’t much care that I couldn’t find that comeback
number.

It had to be Drexel’s biggest comeback ever. This was not the kind of deficit any team rallies
from and wins, but especially Drexel, and especially lately. My view of the program is admittedly
colored with cynical goggles because I missed the peaks in 2007 and 2012, and instead arrived
at its latest swoon, but … 34 points? I’d watched near-history more than a few times in the DAC.
I knew what Drexel history felt like, and it was this. I knew that everyone else spending their
Thursday night live-streaming the Drexel freaking Dragons was watching history, and that we
would all remember it because when a play like the double-save- into-a- three works for this
team, they have to win.

I didn’t, of course, know it was the largest comeback by any team ever. I didn’t know Drexel
would be breaking Duke’s record from 67 years ago. I didn’t know it would reach so much
farther than 34th & Market.

But it was big, especially for this program and its current moment in Zach Spiker’s second year.
The Dragons needed a “moment.” Drexel’s staged plenty of comebacks in my six years
watching this team. Starting back with the home opener against Illinois State my freshman year
(which finished with a few awful calls in regulation and overtime) all the way up to Thursday
night, they rarely, if ever, panned out.

This one did. And now we have one more definitive line in the program’s record books and
game notes. For everyone who watched Thursday night’s game, that piece of Drexel history is
one written together.

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2 Comments

  1. My Drexel history goes back to my first year as a Dragon in the 91-92 season. These are the 3 comeback victories of 19 points or more than I can recall.

    1. 12/1/98 – Drexel trailed by 22 early in the 2nd half at the PEAC and won 70-62
    2. 2/20/96 – The defining game in the greatest season in Drexel basketball history. Drexel trailed by 22 early in the 2nd half and won 82-78.
    3. 1/31/13 – In Fairfax, Drexel trailed George Mason by 19 (35-16) before Damion Lee took over and Drexel won 58-54.

  2. #2 from JB’s list above was at an against Delaware.
    Surprised you didn’t mention the 16 pt comeback vs. Towson at the PEAC where Linderman was punched and Derocckis took the game over with less than 5 minutes to play.

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