Final Score: Drexel 68, Northeastern 67
Key to the Game: Team Defense
Player of the Game: Austin Williams
Next Game: Thursday February 1 vs JMU at the DAC
Austin WIlliams has been called a leader by his coach, one of the nicest players you’ll ever meet by a member of the staff, and a very good basketball player by many. So its no surprise that with plenty of basketball alumni in town for Drexel Homecoming, he threw them a big ole Block Party.
With six blocked shots (“we all know he blocked six, that means he probably changed four or five others,” notes Coach Spiker) over his 37 minutes on the court Austin was an anchor point for a Dragon defense that had its strongest showing since playing Temple in early December. With the guards extended out to take away the three point shot, there was space for a Northeastern team that leads the league in two point shooting percentage to get to the rim. But just when they they thought they had a look, there was Austin. Northeastern took 41 shots from inside the arc and it’s entirely likely that Austin altered a quarter of those shots. “Stretch” also had a double double with 13 points and 11 boards. Meanwhile, the two Northeastern big men that he was battling combined for just 8 rebounds including only 2 on the offensive glass.
When the dust settled and the block party was complete, Austin Williams is now first in the CAA in block percentage, first among Philly D-I players in block percentage, and 38th nationally. For those who enjoy their Drexel history, his current rate is better than Robert Battle’s senior year numbers.
With Austin helping out so much inside and keeping himself on the floor, the guards were able to be more aggressive with their perimeter defense. Sammy Mojica led the way with four of the teams eight steals (he added 13 points on 9 attempts and had 9 rebounds as well). Northeastern took just 30% of their attempts from three rather than their usual 46%. Against a Huskies team that has three players shooting better than 40% from deep, that was absolutely critical. There were contributions from all four Drexel guards: Sammy’s ball hawking was featured, but Troy Harper was constantly in his mans jersey and Kurk Lee and Tramaine Isabell were all over the place helping out. It was a much needed team performance from a defense that had spent most of the year struggling. “When someone tells this group ‘You’re offensively talented’ we need to take that as the biggest insult [possible]… We competed at the defensive end [today]” proclaimed Coach Spiker.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Dragons got out in front of themselves at times, moving too quickly and turning the ball over the most they have since… they played Temple in early December (interesting correlation there). The 16 turnovers were largely the ugly variety that have cost the Dragons games this season: Dribbling into traffic, throwing the ball away, or just getting a pocket picked, all leading to run outs by the Huskies. Coming out of halftime four of the first five Drexel possessions ended with no shot being taken and Northeastern hurtling the other way with the ball. A mixture of better transition defense and their very strong half court defense was enough to bail them out of those issues this time around.
When not turning the ball over, the Drexel offense was pretty efficient and spread around. They won the battle on the boards, shot 50% from 2 and 33% from deep, with no one player hitting more than one three pointer. When the offense looked sluggish at times, Tramaine Isabell continued to show his ability to create his own shot or look for a teammate, en route to a 21 point and 4 assist performance. And when his teammates needed him most, it wasn’t a hero shot, but rather controlled drives to the basket. That led to the games final play, in which, after getting fouled on a drive Isabell went to the line, with the Dragons down by 1 and just seconds on the clock. He hit the first, and missed the second. But after that miss he streaked towards the long rebound, leaned in and got the call that put him back to the line for the winning free throw. It was a heads up and hustle play from the junior guard who is now 4th in the league in scoring and the top rebounder in the league amont guards.
The Dragons wrap up the three game homestand in a revenge game against James Madison on Thursday night.