Final Score: Drexel 82, Robert Morris 69
Drexel Player(s) of the Game: James Butler and Tim Perry, Jr
Key to the Game: Fight hard, fight together
Last year’s game against Robert Morris was one that many Drexel fans wanted to forget. It was clear on Saturday afternoon that Zach Spiker made sure his players remembered, and the returning players made sure the new guys knew that they had been bested by a far inferior Robert Morris team by 14 points last December. On Saturday afternoon, in front of a reported crowd of 1,481 that included a few celebrities, the Drexel Dragons brought their “A” game.
Robert Morris started hot making 9 of their first 15 shots, leaving Drexel searching for their first field goal of the game for nearly four minutes. For the next nine minutes, the teams battled back and forth, trading buckets with Drexel getting close and the Colonials putting a little more cushion on their lead. Then with 8:50 to go, Drexel started to turn things around. A mad scramble in the offensive key saw James Butler go to the floor to win the contested ball. The ball found itself into Matey Juric’s hands who made a dish to Alihan Demir who finished the layup tying the game at 21. The most remarkable thing about the play though was the Dragons’ coach’s reaction. As Butler hit the hardwood, Spiker was out past half court, pumping his fist. On Demir’s make, Spiker left his feet, cheering his guys on. His team was back in the game.
“It was a huge play, I kind of lost my mind,” Spiker said, adding, “I thought that play wasn’t a big play in this game, I thought it was a big, big play for our basketball season.” Butler’s tenacity was contagious. The Dragons left little doubt that they were not going to leave any free ball uncontested. On separate occasions, Trevor John, and in one instance a bevy of Drexel players all found themselves on the floor fighting for a loose ball.
After their hot start, Robert Morris shot just 4 for 16 from the field through the last nine minutes of the half. The Dragons outscored the Colonials 21-13 the rest of the way and they did it all while shooting just 1 for 7 from three for the half. Demir led Drexel starters in the first half with 8 points on 4 of 8 shooting despite three turnovers. While the half was not mistake free it was one of the better 20-minute segments that the Dragons have put up this year. Their hard work resulted in a 42-34 lead at the break.
To open the second half, Drexel came out hot, outscoring Robert Morris 14-6 in the first three minutes of the half, trading threes for Robert Morris’ twos. The Dragons made their first five three point attempts of the half, a run that was aided by the Colonials’ defensive scheme. “They started the half in a 2-3, and we have Trevor (John), Cam (Wynter) and Ali (Alihan Demir), you’re going to come out of (the zone) pretty quick,” Troy Harper said after the game. Drexel ultimately shot 7 for 12 from three for the second half with Harper adding one of his own. Drexel took the lead from the Colonials with 6:36 remaining in the first half, and they would never look back. The Dragons maintained a double-digit lead for the last 17:22 of the game.
And then there was the free throw shooting. As a team, Drexel missed just two freebies for the entire game, making 20 out of 22. Harper missed one in the first 20 minutes and Butler missed his in the second 20. While Drexel committed 13 turnovers, Drexel went nearly 15 minutes without one in the second half until Cam Wynter coughed up the ball at half court on an attempted crossover dribble with 17 seconds to go. When the final buzzer sounded, well after Ben Simmons and Kendall Jenner had left the building, by the way, Drexel found themselves on top by a score of 82-69.
Drexel chose to press for much of the game, putting a loose 1-2-2 on the floor more designed to slow the run of play for Robert Morris than to create steals. Spiker pointed out after the game that Robert Morris is an excellent transitional team. It was obvious that his team had a game plan, and they executed it effectively.
Typically, the Always a Dragon team tries to pick one player for player of the game, but tonight, it goes to two guys based on their combined effort. Austin Williams’ graduation last year might have left the biggest question mark in Drexel’s game for the 2018-19 season. Who would step up and take the #5 role, and would they be anywhere near as good as Williams was? On Saturday afternoon, James Butler and Tim Perry Jr. put up one heck of a display on the blocks. The pair split the minutes at the #5 spot (Perry with 21, Butler, the starter with 19). They combined for 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting and added a total of 13 rebounds.
Finally, the guard play of Matey Juric and Coletrane Washington should not be overlooked. This was the second look that most fans have had of Juric in the regular season. The freshman from Toronto, Canada is a scrappy, defensive point guard who did an excellent job at his own end of the floor. His foot speed was enough to keep himself from getting beaten. At the other end of the floor Juric was able to dish out three assists and six points in his 12 minutes of play.
Washington was thought to be a redshirt, but due to the team’s current injury situation, he got some minutes. Ten of them to be exact. Although he missed all four threes he took, his coach was happy with his play on the offensive end, saying that all four shots were ones that he thought were going in when the left Washington’s hand. His defensive performance was excellent. For much of his time on the floor Washington was asked to cover Josh Williams, the Colonials’ leading scorer coming into the afternoon. In the time the pair were on the floor together Williams committed four turnovers and scored just one point from the free throw line.
Saturday was a complete victory by the Drexel Dragons. Once they solidified their lead they never looked back. Defensively they had a good showing. It was nice to see the Dragons get back to their winning ways after dropping two winnable games to Bowling Green and NJIT. Drexel returns to Sam Cozen court Wednesday night to take on the Loyola (MD) Greyhounds in a 7pm contest.
Junior Kurk Lee missed his fourth straight game with what the team is describing as a “shoulder injury.” Lee is currently considered day-to-day and will continue to be a game time decision.
Fellow junior Zach Walton’s prognosis is not as good as Lee’s. After suffering a wrist injury at NJIT that resulted in his shooting wrist being wrapped for much of the late stages of the game, it appears that it is a relatively serious one. The team did not release any timetable for his return, and chose to just say that he will be out for quite some time.