“Did you see what that was?”
Those words were uttered a number of times, coming from both myself and the person sitting to my right at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Delaware on Saturday. Generally speaking, those words were used to ask about a call the officials made on the floor, or as to one of their numerous trips to the replay monitor. It could just as easily been asked about the performance of any number of players or coaches. This rivalry clash was a veritable CAA bloodbath at the Bob.
From an officiating perspective, no one was happy with the crew of Ed Corliss, Jon Wall and Patrick Harwood. I’ve seen hundreds of Drexel games live, and I was repeatedly caught asking “Did you see what that was?” The person earlier alluded to and sitting next to me was CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio, who asked me that question at least as many times as I asked him. If we didn’t know what was going on, well, in the words of Zach Spiker “This was not a well-managed game on the court. And I’m not talking about either team.” And it certainly had an impact on the game, especially on a player like Troy Harper whose game is so determined by what the referees are calling. He has a need for consistency from the officials, and perhaps as a result of his inability to understand what was being called, he was correctly rung up for two flagrant fouls during the contest as he showed his frustration. From a freshman, that might be acceptable, but fans may be keeping an eye on out for potential disciplinary action during the next game at William and Mary.
As for the teams on the floor, it’s always hard to play when the game has constant stoppages and inconsistent officiating, but both coaches seemed to be in agreement: Their teams need to be better. Fans can look to context clues such as Delaware Head Coach Martin Inglesby saying “We have to be better” after the game concluded. On Drexel’s side, Coach Spiker lauded the comeback, while noting “Proud of how hard our guys fought, disappointed we were in that hole though.”
If there were two coaching takeaways for Drexel in this one, the first would be that the Dragons came in oddly fixated on stopping big man Eric Carter when Delaware has been living and dying by the three point shot this year. Using a zone and double teams, the Dragons kept Carter to 6 points and 13 rebounds, while James Butler has 13 points and 8 rebounds in 7 less minutes. Plus/Minus stats don’t mean a ton within individual games (too small of a sample size) but for those of you into it, UD was +12 with Carter in the game, their best player by that metric, while Butler was -10, Drexel’s worst. Focusing all of their energies on Carter and playing zone allowed a ton of open shots for a UD team that really, really tries to get those shots. Delaware shot 21 of their 52 shots from deep, and few if any were contested attempts. The Blue Hens 52% shooting is the answer to the question “How does a team get outscored in the paint by 18 points, have a -12 turnover margin and win?” It should be impossible. On this day, the Dragons made it possible.
The Dragons, who came out slow and were trailing by around 10 points for most of the contest, were able to use pressure and close the gap late. In fact, UD struggled with the press so much the Dragons almost didn’t need to foul despite being down double digits with under two minutes to play. After the Dragons 34 point comeback at the DAC last season, it was Tramaine Isabell who said “We’ve shown flashes of being a good pressing team… maybe its just against Delaware.” While Coach Spiker alluded then, just as he did in the postgame after this contest, that pressing requires more depth, when this team was greatly lacking a first half spark, it would have been interesting to see small doses of it. It obviously was very successful at end game, and every time that this team has played UD under Inglesby. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.
This was the best travel party that the Dragons have had for a game in years. The word on press row was that this was the best crowd of the season for UD. The fans were into it. Both teams had a full week to prepare. To say that this game, at every level, was a disappointment, feels a significant understatement.
Both teams will be back at it on Thursday, with the Dragons playing a William and Mary opponent that wiped the floor with them in their earlier meeting. Coming out of this disappointing game, and in a revenge spot, the Dragons shouldn’t be lacking for motivation as they roll into Williamsburg to start a big two game southern road swing against the Tribe and Elon. The 4-5 Dragons are in 5th place at they enter the second half of the CAA season, after being picked 9th in the preseason polls.