Final Score: Drexel 68, Lafayette 67
Drexel Player of the Game: Austin Williams
Key to the Game: Shoot them out of their zone
Next Game: Saturday December 2, 4pm vs. Rider
The 0-5 Lafayette Leopards should be a team that the Dragons have no problem with. After a showing by NJIT, who drove easily and effectively against the Leopards D a few weeks ago, the game of Kurk Lee and Tramaine Isabell should have translated well. Most of Lafayette’s scoring so far this season had come from Matt Klinewski and Alex Petrie, so shutting at least one of them down should have made a difference. All of those “should’s” were thrown out the window Wednesday evening at the DAC.
In the first half, Fran O’Hanlon sat his Leopards back in two different zone looks, a 1-3-1 and a 2-3, and dared Drexel to shoot from the outside and largely preventing the entry to the lane that the Drexel guards covet so effectively. The Dragons responded by shooting 8.3% (1 for 12) from the perimeter in the first half, adding an 8 for 18 clip from the inside to total 25 points. They went to the locker room trailing 29-25 at the half. Austin Williams’ play, totaling 10 points and 8 rebounds and just one foul was one of the few bright spots, although the team’s starting center spent the last five minutes on the bench, with Todas Kararinas getting the call to replace Tyshawn Myles at one point when the Drexel big man went down hard on the floor.
One other statistic of note: Drexel recorded just five turnovers in that first half, and one of them was on Ty Myles’ play that resulted in his brief departure from the court. Prior to that call, which came with 2:12 remaining in the half, the Dragons had gone 13 minutes without committing a single turnover. The problem? As Bruiser Flint would have told us, “You gotta make your shots.”
In the early goings of the second half, Drexel was 1 for 15 from three for the game. For a short stretch, they got streaky enough to pull the game back to a competitive level. With just over 15 minutes left, Lukas Jarrett sank a three and was fouled by Tramaine Isabell on the play, setting up the rare four-point play. This put Lafayette up by a game high 11 points. Drexel answered with five threes on their next six possessions, two by Sammy Mojica, one by Alihan Demir, one by Kurk Lee, and one by Tramaine Isabell that pulled the game even at 47. A foul under the basket by Paulius Zalys on Isabell’s make triggered the under-12 media timeout.
Coming out of the U-12, Drexel proceeded to miss their next 11 field goals over a nearly eight-minute stretch. Their 7 for 9 free throw shooting was the only thing that kept them going at that point. With 4:19 to go, Alihan Demir broke the cold spell and sank a layup. Lafayette’s equally poor play during that segment allowed the game to stay close. Drexel trailed 64-56 as they headed to the under 4 media timeout.
With the way the Dragons were shooting, an eight point difference seemed like a mountain in this game. They just couldn’t make their shots. Lucky for them, in the closing minutes of the game, things came unraveled for the Lafayette Leopards.
Trailing by five, Spiker shifted the Dragons into a full court man-to-man press. Sammy Mojica forced the ball out of bounds to the left. On the ensuing inbound, there was a lot of confusion for Lafayette that allowed Tramaine Isabell to pick the pass cleanly, and take it to the hoop for two. Drexel played some of their best defense of the season on the next possession and forced a shot clock violation as Alihan Demir went to the floor at half court to control the loose ball as the horn sounded.
With 1:28 to go, they trailed by 3. Isabell sank a runner to the lane, reducing the lead to one. This marked seven consecutive points for Isabell. For the second time in the half, a foul under the basket sent a Drexel big man to the line. This time, it was Austin Williams. The senior has struggled from the line this year, and he missed his first. He was, however, granted redemption as Paulius Zalys had his momentum carry him forward for a lane violation. Stretch responded by making the front end of the 1-and-1, tying the game at 64.
On their next defensive stand, a block by Demir sent the ball back into the Leopards’ hands. A pass went to sharp shooting freshman Alex Petrie’s hands who promptly bricked a three from the corner. Kurk Lee came down with the ball and was fouled, sending him the line for two. He converted both.
With Drexel leading amidst a 10-0 run, Justin Jaworski, who was undoubtedly the best player of the night for Lafayette, took the ball to the hole and drew a foul. He went to the line with 0:31 to go, and sank the free throw, putting Lafayette up by one.
Isabell attempted and missed a quick three and Sammy Mojica chased down the rebound and returned the ball to the red-hot Isabell at the top of the key. Everyone in the DAC was expecting Isabell to drive, but the Drexel transfer proved that the unselfish move was the smart one as he fired the ball under the basket to a wide-open Austin Williams for the dunk.
Jaworski came down the court looking to find the magic one last time and was met by a monstrous block by Williams. With 5.4 seconds, the Drexel Dragons had battled back to lead 68-67. A feverish, chaotic 5 seconds ended without a Leopards basket, and the Dragons escaped with a 68-67 victory.
The problem for the Dragons tonight rested in their inability to effectively shoot Lafayette out of their zone. “(Coach O’Hanlon) is going to start every game in the 1-3-1 (zone),” Spiker said in the postgame, “and if you can solve it and get a quick bucket it usually disappears. For some reason, we gave him the confidence that he can keep playing it.”
A team like Drexel thrives off of driving the ball to the hoop. That is how they create. That is why they have guys like Lee, Isabell, and Harper (when healthy) in their backcourt. Their ability to get to the hoop and draw fouls or make smart passes is how the Dragons have most effectively put points on the board this season. The zone looks, both the 1-3-1 and the 2-3, shown by Lafayette was enough to clog the lane and keep Drexel on the perimeter more than they seemed to be comfortable with. When they could get the ball into the paint, they outscored Lafayette 28-20.
While many would give the Player of the Game honor to Tramaine Isabell and his 19 points, tonight’s honor from Always a Dragon goes to Austin Williams. On paper, Matt Klinewski was a difficult matchup for a guy like Williams. He stretches the floor and forces the guy covering him to play face up defense instead of having to cover a man exclusively on the block. Klinewski has an effective outside shot and has shown the ability to take the ball to the hoop. He had also been excellent at drawing fouls coming into Wednesday night’s contest.
Austin walked away with a double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds. His most remarkable stats though were his three blocked shots, and just two personal fouls. Williams, known for his hard-nosed play resulting in him getting into foul trouble, played smart and played effectively. His importance to the team was emphasized by his absence from the floor in the last five minutes of the first half. It is unknown why he was not on the floor.
A win is a win, but this was not a pretty one. Fran O’Hanlon found an Achilles heel for the Dragons tonight, and it was their perimeter shooting. He sat back and dared the Dragons to make their outside shots, and for the large sample size, they could not. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more zone from those teams capable of playing it when they face the Dragons. Coming out of last night’s game, Drexel is shooting 28.6% from three, good enough to be ranked 312th in the nation. That has not discouraged them from shooting, as 42% of their attempted field goals have been from deep. Zach Spiker has done well to erase the mid-range jumper from this program’s repertoire but the perimeter shooting that its been replaced with has been less than stellar.
The Dragons return to the court on Saturday to take on Rider in a 4pm.