Final Score: Drexel 79, Elon 65
Key to the Game: Finishing
Drexel Player of the Game: Alihan Demir
Next Game: Saturday January 5, 4pm vs. William and Mary
Matt Matheny’s Elon Phoenix have consistently underperformed their predictions year after year. Led by seniors Steve Santa Ana and Tyler Seibring, the Phoenix are spending the remainder of their 2018-19 campaign without starting point guard Danian Swoope. To try and get some life from the remainder of his roster, Matheny has decided to go young and give several freshmen a considerable amount of playing time. Thursday night’s game presented an excellent opportunity for the Dragons to get the weight of a four-game losing streak off their backs.
Ice cold shooting defined the first half for Drexel. The Dragons effectively executed their offensive sets. They produced the looks that the team would want, but the ball just was not falling. On the offensive side of the court, the Dragons were doing everything right. They were limiting their turnovers and pulling down several offensive boards, seven to be exact. The lack of finishing showed though. Drexel was able to score just four points off the second chances they created.
Elon rode some early hot shooting, but eventually cooled to right around 50%. As is typical for the Phoenix, 14 of their 27 field goal attempts in the first half were threes. Steve Santa Ana, who has led the Swoope-less Phoenix with a 16.6 PPG average, matched Alihan Demir’s 8 points to lead their teams respectively. Sophomore point guard Nathan Priddy contributed 7 points of his own. Elon led by as many as 11 in the first half but Drexel outscored Elon 24-14 down the stretch to head to the locker room trailing by just 1 point, 35-34.
A quick nine unanswered points from Drexel forced an Elon timeout just two minutes into the second half. The hot shooting continued for Drexel. At the under-12 media timeout, the Dragons found themselves leading 55-42 while shooting 9 of 13 from the field. The heat would continue for the remainder of the game, as Drexel went home at the end of the night with a decisive 79-65 victory.
The halves played like two different contests for the Dragons. They trailed for all but 27 seconds in the first frame and led for all but 17 seconds in the second. They improved on their 38.2% first half shooting percentage to make 59% of their chances in the second 20 minutes. Their defensive efforts were enough to hold Elon scoreless for the final 2:34 of the game. Elon’s game total of 65 points was the lowest that Drexel has surrendered against a D1 opponent this season. When it was all said and done, four Dragons finished the night in double figures with a fifth, Cam Wynter, falling just short.
Although he did not score in double digits tonight, Cam Wynter had another stellar game at the point for Drexel. The “pass first” freshman point guard put up 8 points with 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He did what any good point guard should do on any given night: he made the players on the court with him better.
The defensive efforts of the Dragons took a step forward in the second half as well. Tyler Seibring, who has had a great deal of success against Drexel in his four years was held to just four points on four successful free throws. Alihan Demir, who drew Seibring as a defensive assignment for most of the game, said “What we did was limited his touches on offense, and he did not get the ball as much. Even the ones that he made, they were not easy looks.”
Elon tried to win this game from beyond the three-point line because that is what Elon does. As tradition dictated, they are a heavy, heavy three-point shooting team. What Drexel did on Thursday was defend the perimeter well. The Dragons made sure shots were contested and looked defensively sound. They’ve been vulnerable on the drive this season, but Thursday they handled those chances effectively as well, as Elon made 9 of their 13 layup attempts. Coach Spiker credited the tenacity of their practices following their four-game losing streak as one of the contributing factors to his team’s defensive effort. “I think that there were a lot of guys who were playing with better purpose,” he said.
Coletrane Washington saw 17 minutes of time for the Dragons. Although his shot is not falling as consistently as he’d like, his defensive efforts have not gone unnoticed. Washington has seen some tough defensive assignments this season, and Thursday night was no exception. While he was on the court, he spent a considerable amount of time defending Steve Santa Ana. The Always a Dragon team has asked about Washington’s development before, but tonight Coach Spiker elaborated a bit more than in the past. “He takes pride in his defense and gets some really tough matchups in practice,” Spiker said, “He’s improved as a defender, and he’s deserving of those minutes. I’m proud of him.”
Alihan Demir’s 19 points, 8 board and 5 assists were enough to earn him the Drexel Player of the Game for tonight. With turnovers being an issue recently for the Drexel junior, he was able to keep better control of the ball and limit his give aways to one in the second half. Drexel’s first CAA victory of the season was an important one, and Demir, a tri-captain, acknowledged that. “We lost four in a row, so it was a hard week of practice, so I’m glad we won this game.”
While dressed, Kurk Lee did not play once again. There is some question as to whether his reported shoulder injury is at 100%, however with the Phoenix and their situation at the point guard position, tonight probably would have been an excellent night for Lee to make his return. There is no indication as to what his status will be on Saturday.
Ben Simmons and TJ McConnell made headlines earlier in the season when the attended a Drexel game, but they are not the only current professional basketball players who have been out to see the Dragons. 76ers guard Furkan Korkmaz has been seen at a few Drexel games as well. It is reported that he and Alihan Demir are close friends.
With their first CAA win now secured, Drexel has chance to even up their record on Saturday against A William & Mary team who is currently 2-1 in conference play. The two teams will take to Sam Cozen court on Saturday for a 4pm start. As with every home game, the Always a Dragon team will be on the sidelines.