Final Score: Drexel 78, High Point 72
Drexel Player of Game: Kari Jonsson
Key to the Game: Resilience
Next Game: Sunday, December 11 Vs. Saint Joseph’s
February 20th is the 51st day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. Why, you may be asking, am I bringing up a seemingly inconsequential early year date (my apologies to anyone who may have an important life event that is celebrated on 2/20) as we’re currently careening into the holiday season? That date happens to the be one in which the Dragons dragged their decaying body into Kaplan Arena on an 11 game losing streak for senior day festivities against the W&M Tribe. Many will remember the Dragons pantsed the Griffins for the second year and left Williamsburg with their fourth win of a wholly forgettable season. With a win at High Point the Zach Pack would beat last years number by 79 calendar days.
Looking at the KenPom website preparing to watch the game, these two teams seemed to be almost carbon copies of each other in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency as well as their effective field goal percentages. The glaring difference between them was the tempo in which each team operates. High Point would prefer a slower, more methodical approach, while Drexel is just starting the process of opening the throttle up. As Alan Boston noted in his pregame, High Point, coming off a 4 day layoff, seemed as though they would have had the advantage in establishing control of tempo while catching Drexel on short rest. Beyond the question of stamina, Drexel’s biggest potential pitfalls seemed to be locking down High Point’s Andre Fox and Anthony Lindauer and keeping the Panthers off of the foul line, while advantages appeared to be the depth of the Dragon bigs in terms of scoring and cleaning up the glass.
Fans know that Drexel is playing faster: that increased tempo is allowing the Dragons to attempt about 10 more field goals per game than during the preceding regime. The Panthers may not have been ready for the pace. Led by two freshman guards, Kurk Lee and Kari (or Cowree if you were watching online) Jonsson, Drexel blasted out to a 16-6 lead after 5 minutes of play, which would equate to a 128 point pace – play fast indeed. High Point began to press on defense after the first media timeout which seemed more a means to get the Panther players into the game than a ploy to cause Drexel issues. Not that the Dragons needed any help in that regard as they would turn the ball over 12 times in the half. Despite the turnovers, Drexel was actually better able to convert miscues, outscoring the Panthers 13-11 off turnovers.
The second half was all about resiliency and the IceMan. High Point started the 2nd Half on their own quasi fast start, grabbing a 6 point lead with 17:18 remaining in regulation. That gave the Panthers a 16 point scoring advantage over almost 20 minutes of game time. The Dragons also spent the beginning of the second half with sloppy ball handling, resulting in another 6 turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the half. That roughly coincided with the 8:24 stretch of game time that High Point was able to hold the lead. Drexel also found itself as a team, and specifically the forwards, in foul trouble for most of the half. The Panthers entered the bonus with 12:33 remaining en route to out foul shooting Drexel 21-9 in the second half. Dragon teams of recent vintage would have run out of healthy bodies and eventually fallen to these setbacks. This years edition is showing signs of beginning to mesh and become multi-dimensional.
Heading into the game the Dragons had three different leading scorers in their first seven games, it is now four in eight as the pride of Hafnarfjordur continued his scoring barrage from the first half. Jonsson pumped in 14 points on 4/6 shooting from deep and a perfect 2/2 from the line to finish with a career high 25 points. He wasn’t alone. While foul issues dogged Rodney for most of the half, Tyshawn Myles had some key offensive rebounds and putbacks to finish with 9 points in 16 minutes of action.
Make no mistake, there was a team effort to secure the win. From keeping Andre Fox and Anthony Lindauer in check (11 points on 2/12 shooting combined), to winning the battle of style. Miles Overton is continuing to struggle from the floor but still hit four key foul shots down the stretch to ice the game away. All of this looks even more impressive as they are doing it on the road on short rest against a rested opponent. The seeds of regrowth are planted and clearly beginning to take root. Start spreading the good word to those who have fallen by the wayside and get them back to the DAC and talking about this program online.
The men get a well deserved “break” for winter exams before taking on the SJU Hawks on Sunday at the DAC.
Ryan Koechig is a contributor to AlwaysADragon and can be found on twitter @Drachenfire82