Final Score: JMU 75 – Drexel 73
Key to the Game: Turnovers
Drexel Player of the Game: Troy Harper
Next Game: Thursday, January 25 vs Elon
The Dragons want to make us believe. It’s year two of a rebuild and they are promising exciting basketball and growth within the program. While the game at JMU on Saturday was exciting, the Dragons came up two points short against a team that they had been tied for the bottom of the CAA standings with. The Dragons have not won a CAA road game in the year and a half that Coach Spiker has been here, and this appeared to have been the last great opportunity to get one.
In an interesting change of presentation, the Dragons big men, Austin Williams and Alihan Demir came out firing against a Towson squad known for their size, physicality and interior strength. They were strong and physical out of the gate and until early foul trouble fit they had been giving the Tiger big men fits. In Saturday’s game against a JMU opponent that is perceived as much softer, the Dragon forwards played much softer. The combination of Williams, Myles, and Demir pulled down a grand total of 5 rebounds in 71 minutes, and the Dragons reaffirmed that they are last in the league at crashing the defensive glass. When JMU coach Louis Rowe was asked what he asked of his players to dominate the rebounding like that, his answer was simply “We played with toughness.” Foul trouble in the last two games certainly plays in, but 8 games into an 18 game season, being last in the Association on the glass is a problem in deep need of a fix.
On the outside, the Dragon guards kept the first half tight with 50% three point shooting along with a suddenly rejuvenated Troy Harper. The junior guard who had seemingly been playing in a different system than his teammates since his return from injury seemed to find himself between the Towson contest and the game in Harrisonburg. After taking two disastrous 10 foot “layup” shot-turnovers early, he found his composure. With referees who were calling the game tight, Harper stopped selling out for foul calls and just tried to score the basketball. On defense he was smacking the floor, playing with so much intensity that he picked up a cheap foul just for being so far inside the opponents shirt, a foul that left his coaches with smiles from the bench. He ended the day with an efficient 14 points on 8 shots (6-6 from the line) along with three turnovers and was the biggest and brightest surprise from the Dragons in this game.
As for the other DU guards, a solid shooting first half for Sammy Mojica trailed off a bit in the second, but Kurk Lee did the opposite, struggling early and finding himself late as he so often does. Tremaine Isabell showed leadership skills, positioning his teammates, and, until the game was tied with a minute to go, showing great shot selection and hustle, putting up a 21 point and 10 rebound line that helped keep his team from getting run out of this game. But the story that is too easy to miss in the box score is this: Drexel – 10 turnovers, JMU – 8 turnovers. It looks like nothing, but read below: Drexel – 2 points off turnover, JMU – 17 points off turnover. The turnovers that Drexel had were bad ones. Let it be guys just losing their dribble or a bad pass, they led to runouts that gave a poor offensive JMU squad easy baskets. JMU was beatable on this day by a decent, slow, fundamentally sound team, and instead the Dragons made some very unnecessary turnovers when players tried to do too much with the basketball. And it doomed them.
The Dragons promise progress, but this game was a big chance to show it, and that they were not able to was much their own doing. “I think there are a number of plays that… over the course of 40 minutes in a one possession game loom large” said Coach Spiker in the pregame. He’s right. And foul trouble hurt the Dragons badly again and there’s a number of possessions that could have gone differently had it not. But at the end of the day, dribbling the basketball into trouble is entirely avoidable, and those plays are easy ones to point to for a program that needed to make a step forward, but failed to on this day.
The Dragons return to Philadelphia to kickoff a three game homestand on Thursday against Elon.