Final Score: Elon 90, Drexel 75
Drexel Player of the Game: Alihan Demir
Key to the Game: Defend the three
Next Game: Tuesday, January 2, 7pm at UNCW
Christmas break at Elon means the campus shuts down. The stores and restaurants around the campus are typically closed presumably because their employee and customer bases just are not there. With an empty student section and a hefty helping of alumni and their children manning the stands, the Elon Phoenix welcomed the Drexel Dragons to the court for their CAA opener.
On the injury front, Miles Overton and Troy Harper returned to the court for the Dragons. Missing though, were Tyshawn Myles and for the second game in a row, Tramaine Isabell.
Elon came out firing, sinking shot after shot time after time down the court. At one point in the first ten minutes, the Phoenix were averaging more than two points per possession, and they were capitalizing off Drexel’s mistakes. Elon scored 15 points from 8 early turnovers by the Dragons, four of them coming in the first four minutes of the game.
One of the strangest calls of the game came against Miles Overton. Following a traveling call, the frustrated senior making his debut Saturday pushed the ball back behind him towards the referee and the baseline. Standing between them was Elon’s Dimitri Thompson who was hit by the ball in the most sensitive of spots. The Elon player dropped to his knees, and after pleas from the Elon players and bench, the refs took a second look at Overton’s actions on the replay. This culminated in a technical foul charged to Overton, sending the Phoenix to the line and Overton to the bench with his fourth first half foul.
The last five minutes of the first half saw the Dragons best the Phoenix 14-3, sending the game to the half with Elon leading by 10. Spiker cited ball control and inside touches for the team’s improved play, “once we got that segment out of our system, we only had three turnovers the rest of the game.” Drexel continued a trend of more consistent play through the second half with Miles Overton pouring in 11 second half points while playing the entire time with four fouls, and Kurk Lee putting in another strong second half performance.
What Drexel did not have was an answer for Elon’s perimeter play. As expected, Elon fired three after three going 14 for 30 as a team. That accounts for more than half of their unfouled field goal attempts and exactly half of their makes. While Drexel found themselves trading shots at times, and working the ball inside for two-point attempts, head coach Zach Spiker thinks that his team could have done better defending on the perimeter, “It’s not so much the 14 that bothers us it’s the 30 attempts, that wasn’t what our goal was.” Spiker said they intended to reduce the number attempts. They don’t want opponents shooting threes.
Looking at the five things that we talked about Drexel needing to do to win games, they faired well. Their turnover percentage was just 12.2%. They collected 40% of their offensive rebounds, but they allowed Elon to grab 30% of theirs. The absences of Tyshawn Myles and Tramaine Isabell was most certainly felt on the defensive glass. They made 85% of their free throws, and they recorded assists on over 40% of their two-point field goals. They won four out of the five categories. Their nemesis on Saturday was Elon’s strong start. The hole dug for the Dragons in the first twelve minutes was just too deep with a team that shoots as well as the Phoenix. When the final horn sounded, Drexel found themselves to be the losers of Saturday’s contest, falling to Elon 90-75.
Although the Dragons came out on the downside of the score there were some positives for the Dragons, one of them being our player of the game, Alihan Demir, the JUCO transfer sophomore. With 16 points and 8 rebounds, plus the tough coverage assignment of Tyler Seibring shows the progress that he has made in just a short time playing Division 1 basketball. His coach was also happy with the progress that he has made, “I think he’s settling in a little bit more to what we can expect from him as a baseline.” A regular contribution of 12-15 points, especially once Tramaine Isabell is healthy, could be big for the Dragons.
“Honorable mention” goes to Austin Williams. The 6’8” senior big man caught the eye of Elon press as he changed shots and vacuumed up rebounds under the basket. Williams tied a career high with 14 boards, a feat he accomplished for the third time this season.
When Elon head coach Matt Matheny took to the press conference table flanked by his two kids, Brock and Ava, he had a lot of good things to say about the Dragons acknowledging that they are a lot better than the score showed Saturday. “I think Zach is building a program and they don’t have all of their weapons,” He later spoke about the impact that Tramaine Isabell saying, “When he’s out there its difficult to guard all five of their players on the court because he is one of those guys you have to focus on.”
To wrap up the last postgame of 2017, I wanted to leave you all with a personal note. A peak behind the curtain of sorts. Mid-January of 2017 was the real first trip that I took to cover the Dragons, picking up the Elon and Wilmington games back to back. I had been to Boston a week before, but after spending roughly 15 years in Massachusetts, I really did not count that.
In short, I was completely blown away by the attitudes of those associated with the Elon men’s basketball team as well as the University and in my most recent trip to North Carolina, they most certainly did not disappoint. From the guy working the parking lot, to the campus security guard who told me where I could get a cup of coffee, to their sports information staff, and even their players and head coach. Everyone was friendly and professional. This was Drexel’s last game in the Alumni Gym, a quaint little 1,900 seat arena in the heart of the Elon campus. Next season I highly recommend taking the trip to see their new place if anyone has the time. It’s worth the experience.
As a Drexel fan, I am required to hate Delaware well, because they’re Delaware. Personally, I am not a fan of Towson and the brand of basketball that they play. I will root for them to lose at any opportunity. At the other end of that spectrum is Elon. They are a great basketball program with the right values and direction. I wish them luck in CAA play, and look forward to facing them again in a few weeks at the DAC.
Next, Drexel heads south to Wilmington to take on the Seahawks for their first game of 2018. Covering the game for Drexel will be Brian Mull from CollegeInsider.com. Thanks to Brian in advance for his contribution to Always a Dragon. Happy New Year, everyone.