Final score: Hofstra 89, Drexel 75
Key to the game: What happened when the scoreboard was working early, and when it wasn’t working late
Drexel player of the game: Troy Harper
Next game: Thursday January 3rd, 7 pm vs. Elon
One of the few universal truths in sports can be boiled down to a one-word utterance: Scoreboard. Players and coaches can talk all they want, and writers can spin all the yarns they want, but in the end, the bottom line is there, usually in living color and bold fonts, for all to see.
Except when the scoreboard malfunctions.
As Zach Spiker exited the visiting locker room following Sunday’s game against Hofstra, he walked underneath a scoreboard that read HOFSTRA 72, DREXEL 65. Those who thought that was the final would not have been wrong about the bottom line result, but holding the hottest and most prolific team in the CAA to 72 points and only falling by seven points would have seemed like reasons for encouragement for Drexel, even under a head coach like Spiker who has made it clear over the last two-plus seasons that he doesn’t believe in moral victories.
Except, well, the scoreboard stopped working with 7:17 left, and it’s everything that happened long before and immediately after the malfunction in an 89-75 loss that had Spiker carefully choosing his words afterward.
“I’m going to use shorter comments here, OK?” Spiker said.
Even Spiker’s shortest comment lasted longer than a Drexel lead Sunday. The Dragons trailed wire-to-wire thanks to a sluggish start in which they fell behind 15-4 by the first media timeout and trailed by double digits the remainder of the half before heading into the locker room down 47-27.
“We need to be a lot better, and we need to be a lot tougher and we need to compete a lot harder in the transition from offense to defense,” Spiker said. “It looked like we were running in concrete to start the basketball game. (Hofstra) played a game (Friday) and we played a game (Friday). So there’s no excuse for it to be that great of a difference.”
The good news for Drexel is, even with a malfunctioning scoreboard failing to tell the entire story, the difference wasn’t nearly as vast for the Dragons Sunday as it was for Delaware on Friday.
The Blue Hens, swept undertow by Hofstra’s high-octane offense and suddenly swarming defense, started out as if they were wearing concrete in the CAA opener. But Delaware never put on less restrictive clothing on its way to a 91-46 loss, the most lopsided defeat in a CAA game in almost nine years.
Drexel, at least, rose from the canvas and exchanged some pretty spirited flurries with Hofstra. The Dragons held the Flying Dutchmen scoreless for six straight possessions over a span of more than four minutes late in the first half, though they never got closer than 14 points in that stretch.
Things got a little more interesting in the second half, when Hofstra extended the lead to 22 points a handful of times before Drexel went on a 25-9 run to pull within 70-64 with 8:40 left. Down 72-65, the Dragons had three chances in one possession to get within four or five points, but Coletrane Washington and James Butler missed a pair of jumpers and Troy Harper (a team-high 22 points) missed a 3-pointer.
Justin Wright-Foreman (34 points) followed with a 3-pointer, after which the scoreboard stopped working (“Technology is great, until it doesn’t work,” said Spiker) and Hofstra started to look like the team that dominated the first half. Wright-Foreman’s basket, which gave him his fifth 30-point game of the season, started an 11-0 run for the Dutchmen that iced the game.
“I think Hofstra’s a championship-contending team in this league,” Spiker said. “When they play like that, I think they can beat anybody in our league.”
The Flying Dutchmen at their peak will be a handful for anyone, but especially a team like Drexel, which is still at the early stage of its development under Spiker. The only seniors on the roster, Harper and Trevor John, are both transfers, so if the Dragons are going to climb back into the upper echelon of the CAA, they’ll do so behind the likes of freshman point guard Camryn Wynter.
The early frontrunner for CAA rookie of the year honors had 10 points, four assists, two steals and no turnovers, but his learning curve was lengthened by often being matched up with a pair of four-year players in Wright-Foreman and redshirt junior point guard Desure Buie, the latter of whom played eight games in 2016-17 before suffering a knee injury.
All four of Wynter’s fouls were committed against Wright-Foreman, who drew three of those fouls while in the act of shooting. Buie, meanwhile, had 15 points, 10 assists and four steals while turning the ball over just twice. Per College Basketball Reference, only one other Division I player has matched or exceeded that line against a Division I foe this season. Radford’s Carlik Jones had 24 points, 10 assists, four steals and two turnovers against Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 9.
“Our program is building and growing,” Spiker said. “Certainly, he had a building and growing experience today. Cam has been a good player for us. He will be a good player for us. There were some moments he’ll learn from, in different ways.
Wright-Foreman and Buie also authored a tutorial on how veterans take control of and diffuse potentially dangerous situations. Drexel’s first chance to cut the gap to seven points began with a fast-break opportunity following a turnover by Hofstra forward Tareq Coburn. But Wright-Foreman raced down the court and blocked Matey Juric’s jumper with 9:01 left.
Once the Dragons got to within the frozen-in-time score, Wright-Foreman and Buie combined to collect all but two of the Dutchmen’s 11 unanswered points and 11 of their final 17 overall.
“Every loss, every win, is a teachable moment at this point in our program,” Spiker said. “Doesn’t mean we feel good about them, doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with them.”
Sometimes, the shortest comments say more than any scoreboard, functional or otherwise.