The Dragons completed their trip to Lynchburg, Virginia on Sunday with a double overtime loss to Drake University. The Dragons 1-2 record against Houston, Mercer and Drake may not look like much to the naked eye, but beneath the surface were a number of storylines.
Friday’s win over Houston was only the Dragons second win over a top 100 team since Chris Fouch graduated. Call it a fluke or a stepping stone, it’s the best win of the Spiker era and a great look into the potential of this team. Oddly, the defense wasn’t spectacular, but the Dragons had an outstanding 1.17 points per possession to simply outscore a Houston team that was perceived to have more talent. The Dragons forced the action to the inside, where the crew of Jamie Luckie, Wally Rutecki and Garrick Shannon, whom collectively shouldn’t be officiating a first graders mini-golf birthday party, were calling a tight, if not inconsistent, game. The Dragons ended up on the line 31 times, draining 27 of 31 (87%) which proved to be the difference.
The Dragons needed every bit of the 87% from the stripe, 38% from behind the arc and 56% from inside in that contest since they were almost doubled up in rebounding percentage and lost the turnover battle. Those indicators are predictive, and when Drexel came out flat after their big win against a fundamentally sound, veteran Mercer team there were no surprises to be had. The Dragons ended that contest shooting an impressive 42% from deep and still lost by 19, exemplifying how badly they were beaten in all other phases. That game could be attributed to being a “let down spot” which turned all eyes to Sunday’s contest against a veteran Drake team to find a true measuring stick of the team. And what a game it was.
Kenpom’s “excitement” metric places the Drexel/Drake third place contest at the Paradise Jam as the 25th most exciting game in the entire NCAA population thus far this season. With Drake up 14 just before halftime they had a 89% expected win percentage. With Drake up 7 and less than 5 minutes to play they had a 90% expected winning percentage. This was a game that was not supposed to end up in OT, but similar to Friday’s contest against Houston the Dragons showed a tremendous amount of fight, and to overtime they went. And then in overtime, and Drake up 4 with under a minute to go, they had a 91% win expectancy. And yet again the Dragons forced another OT.
While the Dragons went down on Sunday, they seemed to make a clear statement about the identity of their team all weekend long: Don’t count them out. They will not give in. And while the foul line let them down on Sunday, along with a bench technical foul, and a tough time with perimeter shooting for most of the night, the signs were bright. The team is shooting a survivable 34% from deep for the season now, they are getting to the charity stripe when the officials give it, and the final 20 minutes of the Drake contest was possibly the best defense they have played yet this year. All of those are tremendous signs, especially the last.
The Drake game was the third game in three days for the Dragons and Kurk Lee played 49 minutes of it. Sammy Mojica played 46 and by far the biggest surprise, Jarvis Doles played 43. It’s a clear sign that strength and conditioning is being taken seriously by coaches, and more importantly by the players. There is a flip side to that: Troy Harper left the game with a shoulder injury, Miles Overton didn’t play with knocks to the calf and back, and Tramaine Isabell somehow or another managed to score 32 points while having a team worst -10 +/- score. The pressure will continue to be on Kurk Lee and the seniors to play forty minutes and put their teammates in positions to be successful.
- The starting lineups that the Dragons played against in these games featured a combined 12 seniors and 3 juniors
- Alihan Demir will become eligible for the Dragons in their upcoming matchup vs NJIT. Expect the forward to get significant minutes
- Miles Overton is questionable to return for the NJIT contest
- The Dragons are 78th in free throw rate (a stat that focus’ on getting to the line). The last two times they were top 100 in this were 2012 and 2007.
- The game against Mercer was the only time this season the Dragons have been worse than 50% from inside the arc. They have never done better than 50% for the season since Ken Pomeroy began tracking
- Tramaine Isabell averaged 22 points, 3 assists and 9 rebounds per game in the tourney, en route to receiving All-Tournament honors
- Austin Williams backups combined for 4 points in the three games played. Stretch is an early candidate for team MVP, averaging 29 minutes per game and 70% shooting with a top 50 block rate nationally.
- Kurk Lee is 11th in the country in % of teams minutes played, with Sammy Mojica at 98th.