We talk a lot in this space about great days to be a Dragon. This was not one of those days. In a game that as going to be a test of the Dragons potentially improving defense, DU failed to answer the bell. And in doing so, saw three overarching themes:
They were pushed around. When Drexel played at Rutgers, and the size of the Rutgers team somewhat overwhelmed them with their length, it was somewhat anticipated. Rutgers is an up and coming Big 10 program, and Drexel was putting a bunch of guys on the floor that hadn’t played with each other a ton yet. But to get out phyiscalled by William and Mary? As Alan Boston wrote in the pregame, W&M is more athletic then they once were. And Nathan Knight is a force inside. But the Tribe was missing All-CAA worthy Justin Pierce, and they still destroyed Drexel inside, to the tune of 38-18 points in the paint. The Tribe pulled down 30% of their offensive boards compared to a paltry 17% for the Dragons. In the Dragons house, an angry coming off a loss Tribe team setup shop in the paint and simply beat up the Dragons there. Even Troy Harper, who was seen cutting through the lane and seemingly trying to lead his team to battle against teams like UConn seemed to be taking his “layups” from 5-10 feet from the basket. In a game in which Louis Andrakakos and his officiating crew seemed to decide take the day off (in the second half, just two fouls were called by the under twelve timeout) Wiilliam and Mary seemed to rally around the “let em play” stylings, while the Dragons were left wanting.
They repeated a narrative. For the third time in three conference play losses, the Dragons rallied from down double digits to cut the deficit to six or less late in the second half. And in all three of those games, they gave it back and lost by double digits. The Dragons are keeping getting it close, but can’t maintain that fight to tie up and surpass the opponents. Head Coach Zach Spiker spoke to this, saying “I don’t think its a mental thing where we just get there and [it]blows open, I think we played some fairly good teams… if you get tight with Hofstra, they’re talented enough to [put the game away]… I’d rather be a 5-6 point lead…we can talk about [how the game]starts.” He’s right. The Dragons use a ton of energy to get back into the game, and it makes it challenging when it becomes a two possession game and the opponent, who has been coasting, rallies their energy. The way to prevent this is to stop falling behind.
To that end, there is a second repeated narrative. The Dragons went with an effective half court trap defensively when things were getting bad in the first half. It was effective to the tune of turnovers on three of the first four possessions. The staff did not bring it back out in the second half, a tough call to make. On the one hand, they played man to man and cut it to a two possession game, no gimmicks needed. And when W&M pushed back the Tribe extended the lead so quickly that it would have been a challenge to throw a new defense in. So while its tough to see a spot to have inserted this twist into the second half, given its effectiveness in the first, it seems that it would have been worthy of consideration. When asked about using the trap, Coach Spiker noted “It’s like cough syrup, it’s productive in small doses, too much can be very dangerous.”
The injuries keep coming. Justin Pierce may have missed the game for WIlliam and Mary, but on the Dragons sideline the unavailable players were sitting mid bench, as there is so many they can’t all fit at the end of the bench. Zach Walton and Kurk Lee were joined by Tim Perry Jr (illness) for this game, putting about 70 minutes per game of anticipated play time on the sideline. On top of that, Troy Harper injured his knee when he slipped in front of the Dragon bench late in the game and was escorted to the locker room by the team doctor. But not all news is bad news. This wasn’t a true “non-contact” injury, where the players knee just buckled while in motion, which would indicate an ACL tear (see: Damion Lee). This was caused by the slip, so there was hope that the senior avoided a Drexel-Career ending injury. These hopes seem to have basis – it’s believed that this may just be a relatively minor injury that will leave him day to day, although there will likely be additional testing in the coming days. With a tough road trip to Charleston and UNCW in front of the team the Dragons need as many hands on deck as possible. With Lee practicing, Perry out with only an illness, and Harp avoiding major injury, there can remain hope of players returning as soon as this weekend – and that most if not all return by the second half of CAA play, when the schedule gets much easier for the Dragons.