Final Score: Drexel 73, JMU 68
Key to the Game: The energy in the building
Drexel Player of the Game: Troy Harper
Next Game: Saturday January 26, 2pm at Delaware
In what has seemed to become Drexel’s signature move, Drexel came out slow on Saturday afternoon. They made just one of their first ten field goal attempts. Nothing seemed to be going their way as Stuckey Mosely and the JMU Dukes shot the lights out, building up a 24-9 lead at the under-12 media timeout. The rest of the half and most of the day was dominated by the Drexel Dragons.
Playing in front of a spirited, packed student section, Troy Harper almost single handedly led the Dragons back into the game. Drexel fought their way back and ultimately took the lead with just over a minute remaining on a Harper layup. JMU had some eye-catching numbers in the first half. The Dukes, who were a 71% free throw shooting team coming into the night missed all six attempts from the line in the first half. They followed that up with a three for six performance in the second half.
Drexel played a considerable amount of 1-3-1 zone Saturday, and overall, it looked good. Players were jumping to the ball, covering the passing planes, and generally creating a difficult time for their opponents. The variety of defenses that the team was able to show was one of the keys to the team’s comeback. “They certainly were in rhythm. We needed to change it up.” Coach Zach Spiker said. “When we mixed it up the guys played hard and they did a good job.” The change up did its job for Drexel. After starting the night making 10 of their first 16 field goal attempts, they finished the half 3 for their last 18, which included seven consecutive misses in the last 4:42 of the half which allowed the Dragons to head to the break with a 33-31 lead.
Drexel’s shooting went in the opposite direction. The Dragons started the game shooting one for ten from the field. For the rest of the game they were 25 for 48. They dug themselves a pretty deep hole for the second game in a row. Thursday they were forced to come back twice when trailing by double digits. Saturday JMU’s largest lead was 16 points. Thankfully, Drexel was able to turn it around. They walked away from their homecoming game with a 73-68 victory. While the comebacks have been fun to watch, it would be great to see Drexel get off to better starts.
Alihan Demir recorded a career low 16 minutes courtesy of an injury sustained late in the first half when he went hard to the floor trying to draw a charge on JMU’s Develle Phillips. Demir was subbed out a few plays later, and he retreated to the locker room with the training staff in tow. Demir would be the last player out of the locker room in the second half, and he was limited to just three minutes on the court in the second twenty minutes. After the game, Spiker, who usually speaks very cautiously about player injuries, was optimistic about Demir’s prognosis. “He’ll be fine,” he said, “This is something that happened the other day, and he had a tough fall today. He’s a tough kid and I know he’ll be back.”
James Butler had arguably his best night of the year. With Tim Perry Jr sidelined for the fourth game in a row, Butler did not have much help at the five. When Alihan Demir went down with his injury, he had even less help. Butler proved he was up to the challenge. The first year Drexel big man played the entirety of the second half. He picked up his third foul early but he did not let that slow him down. Butler pulled down 10 of his career high 16 boards in the second half, and scored seven of his nine points on the night as well.
The player of the game honor once again goes to Troy Harper. His 22-point effort was spurred along by eight drawn fouls, although he did shoot an uncharacteristic 5 for 11 from the line. It was the energy that he brought to the floor that was the difference maker on Saturday. When the team was trailing, Harp was the one who made the shots to ignite the team. He led the Dragons back into the game, and he brought the student section along with them. He was having fun, and the fans were having fun watching him. He also orchestrated two of the most exciting plays of the game.
Gotta keep your eyes on Harper 👀 pic.twitter.com/0VAtVnxRzA
— Drexel Men’s Basketball (@DrexelMBB) January 19, 2019
Early in the second half, Harper created a switch that put JMU big man Develle Phillips on him. He drove to the low block on the right side and threw a fake so convincing that Phillips spun around to look for a rebound that was not there. Harper put up an easy layup over Phillips’ back and made his way back down the floor with a smile on his face, spinning a solitary finger in the air.
Harper. OUT OF NOWHERE! pic.twitter.com/Y6cEtk5iCa
— Drexel Men’s Basketball (@DrexelMBB) January 19, 2019
And then there was the sole block that the Dragons recorded on the night. Trailing by 10 with under a minute left, JMU point guard Dashon Parker picked fellow freshman Cam Wynter’s pocket and started down the right wing for what appeared to be an easy layup. Troy Harper thought otherwise. The generously estimated 6’1 Harper has shown on multiple occasions that he can elevate. Parker found that out the hard way. Harper met Parker’s layup at its release and pinned it to the backboard. Wynter came down with the rebound and was immediately fouled as Harper walked away pumping his fist.
This was a big win for the Dragons. For the first time since 2015, the Dragons hold a .500 record in the CAA. This is also the earliest that they have reached 10 victories since their 29-7 campaign of 2011-12. Elsewhere in the CAA, Hofstra beat Charleston soundly, Northeastern beat UNCW at the Trask, and Elon upset William & Mary in Virginia. The biggest chip fell in the nightcap when last place Towson recorded just their second win of the season away against Blue Hens of Delaware. Every decision in the CAA went Drexel’s way. With a bit of a break coming up this week, Drexel finds themselves in 4th place in the CAA, just one win behind their next opponent: Delaware.
It was also a big day for the DAC Pack. The student run organization won 1,500 DragonCard Dollars by taking first place in the annual Spirit Week Competition. DAC Pack vice-president Robert Bell was part of the university’s homecoming court. Their biggest accomplishment though came in the form of a packed, energized student section. In a world where packing the stands at a college basketball game seems more challenging than ever, the efforts of the DAC Pack truly made Drexel’s home court a difficult place to play on Saturday afternoon.
With a week off in front of them, the Dragons have a great opportunity to get healthy. Perry and Kurk Lee were once again not dressed, and even taking into consideration his coach’s optimism, Demir’s injury might be the priority of the three. With a big game on the horizon against the surprising Delaware Blue Hens, it needs to be an “all hands on deck” situation for the Dragons.