Final Score: NJIT 70, Drexel 67
Drexel Player of the Game: Alihan Demir
Key to the Game: Finding One Another
A home loss to NJIT, even 6-1 NJIT, is never going to be considered a good loss for the Drexel Blue and Gold brethren. Even an NJIT team led by the extremely talented front court senior duo of Abdul Lewis (17 points, 10 boards) and Mohamed Bendary (12 points, 2 rebounds). OK, even a talented NJIT team with an extremely good sophomore point guard in Zach Cooks and a chirping Brian Kennedy at Head Coach.
So maybe this game wasn’t quite as much of a cupcake as may first come to mind when one sees NJIT on the schedule. NJIT is a talented, seasoned team with a good coach than can walk into a lot of gyms and walk out with a W. They scored their fourth road win of the young season at the DAC on Wednesday night.
The story of the game from the Drexel side was likely the half to half defense. After conceding a brutal 45 points in the first half, the Dragons seemed to find themselves when defending in front of a jam packed student section in the second half. “It was a regular Wednesday night in Philadelphia and I thought the turnout was awesome… whatever it was, lets keep doing it” said Head Coach Zach Spiker.
The Dragons held the Highlanders to just 25 second half points on 29% shooting while primarily sticking with their man to man in front of their fellow students. Unfortunately the first half hole proved just one shot too deep for a Dragons team that came screaming back, led by a patient Alihan Demir who took what the defense gave him to the tune of 18 points and 14 rebounds.
And while the Dragons offense ran through the hands of Demir after almost every dead ball, and did so effectively, his teammates may be served to watch Alihan’s performance closely on tape. His patience wasn’t necessary shared by his teammates. Let it be contested three point attempts by Trevor John, heads down drives into traffic by Troy Harper in a game in which the refs were “letting them play” or Butler jump shots from a bit further from the hoop than his strength is. With regard to Troy, Zach Spiker said “Four turnovers is a little bit high, but you would rather have someone be aggressive than be tentative… It’s a trade off.” One might wonder if that quote, while showing confidence (and requesting some restraint) with his senior guard, isn’t simultaneously hinting that aggression can be good for players such as top scorer Demir.
That call for additional balance and consistency for his team shouldn’t be surprising. This is still a team full of new faces playing together for their first season. They’re still finding each other, and it’s even harder with Kurk Lee, the expected calming presence at the point, still out. He’s been sorely missed in the last two contests. And while Matey Juric saw his first (limited) minutes of the season, it seems that Zach Walton injured his wrist during the contest, so the team is adding, not subtracting, to the Drexel MASH unit.
In a game where the staff seemed to want to go physical and fast, and was effective doing it, the bench options were becoming very limited very fast. Trevor John is a very effective player in his role, but when thinking physical and fast, he’s not the first person one turns to. Yet he played 38 minutes in this contest. And that is a story in and of itself. Because despite being shorthanded and undersized, the Dragons won the battle on the boards decisively – outscoring NJIT 38-26 in the paint and 15-2 in second chance points as James Butler joined Alihan Demir with a double double of his own (10 points, 12 boards). The aggressive Dragons also limited themselves to an acceptable 11 turnovers. They played much improved defense in the second half. And while the 2-4 record doesn’t excite anyone, they’ve only been blown out once, and that was at Rutgers, a team that went on the road and knocked off Miami on Wednesday.
In all, the team is playing tougher, they’re in these games, and they’re still a long way from a finished or healthy product. Spiker wrapped up the evening with this: “It’s November. We’re not a finished product. We want to be our best product in a few months… It would be nice to have Kurk Lee out there and we hope to have him sooner [than later].”
The Dragons have three games left on the homestand, and with the students behind them, it will be a three game opportunity to find each other, and to figure out just how aggressive they need to be, not individually, but as a team. Their next game is Saturday at 2pm against Robert Morris.