Final Score: Bowling Green 78, Drexel 69
Drexel Player of Game: Austin Williams
Key to the Game: The third quarter
Next Game: Monday, November 13 vs Arcadia
The second year of the Zach Spiker era tipped off before a good sized Drexel crowd under the retro lights of the DAC on Friday night. By the end of the game, fans may have had more questions then answers. Some of these questions can be answered now:
* Miles Overton and Kris Alford were out with injuries.
* Tramaine Isabell was suspended for violating team standards (this answer may lead to more questions)
* Alihan Demir is out for the first 5 games, per NCAA rules
* Troy Harper left with a cramp, and has been seen cramping throughout the early season
And therein lies four of the top eight players that this team expects to have this year. The pessimist says that this team has a serious problem keeping players on the floor, the optimist points in anticipation of full roster availability well before the calendar flips to December. The millennial doesn’t care and asks what they did this game.
What the team did on Friday night was display their coaches vision for the fans. Display is the word used, since execute would be a step too far. After averaging 61 possessions per game four years ago, 65 possessions in Bruiser Flint’s final season at the helm, the team moved up tempo to 70 possessions per game in Coach Spiker’s first season. On Friday night, they had a 75 possession game. And they weren’t just moving faster. With Alihan Demir out they used a mixture of guards, Sam Green and Tadas Kararinas at the four spot for most of this game. All of those players are threats to take three pointers, so no longer were two big men clogging the paint alongside their defenders. In the first half there were offensive sets in which there were no Drexel jerseys at all in the paint at times. The emphasis on space and freedom of movement was there. At the other end, there were defensive rebounds with five white shirts in the paint and not a Falcon to be seen. That would seem to be the dream for Drexel this year. When the Dragons are running right, this spacing will create ball movement, and allow the guards to get into the paint and putbacks from the bigs, and that is a lot of what fans saw in the first half.
The flow and possession pace of the game didn’t slow down in the second half, but when Austin Williams went to the bench with three fouls just minutes in, the game changed. Austin’s putbacks and rebounding had covered up a number of large first half flaws. The guards were shooting poorly, there were too many turnovers and Kurk Lee in particular was struggling to break himself free and effect the game (Coach Spiker stood adamantly behind Kurk in the postgame press conference, welcoming anyone to see his stats at the end of the year and not read too much into one game). When Austin left the floor, the Dragons lost their bailout. Suddenly the chinks in the armor were exposed. The Dragons were down a number of guards for this game and the ones remaining, sans Sammy Mojica, were new to the roster and not completely upto speed yet. None were hitting from deep. On the other end, Justin Turner was having their way with them to the tune of a 12/19 effort from the field and a monster assist rate. The Dragons may be able to run well with two of the three of Sammy, Austin and Kurk playing well, but when down to just one of that trio playing effectively and no guard help off the bench Bowling Green went on a game deciding 19-0 run.
It’s worth noting that in trying to salvage the game down the stretch, Coach Spiker went away from what he wants to do. To cover for the gaping hole at the four, he checked Tyshawn Myles and Austin Williams in together. Spiker praised Myles in the postgame saying “I wasn’t surprised but I was pleased to see what Ty Myles gave us.” The two played well together and while it is unlikely that he’ll ever want to see that line out there again, his willingness to do what his team needs in the moment and get creative rather than sticking to his long term plan for the full length of the contest should be noted.
The looks were right. The stylistic progress showed. The execution did not. They were down three players at the start, lost another starter at times with cramps and shot 20% from behind the arc. A young team didn’t execute. A loss at home to Bowling Green, that’s not good. No way to spin it. But fans looking for answers to where this team is going received some of those answers. The largest question remains however: When will they see that vision executed.