Final Score: Drexel 84, Houston 80
Drexel Player of Game: Tramaine Isabell
Key to the Game: Free-throw shooting
Next Game: Saturday, November 18 vs. Mercer
The Drexel Dragons came into Friday’s game huge underdogs. So far this season, they lost to a Bowling Green team they arguably should have beaten, and they did not lay as bad of a hurting as many thought they should against Division III Arcadia. As they matched up against the Houston Cougars, they had a lot to prove.
In the pregame writeup, we talked about some of the things Drexel had to do to make this a game. They needed to keep the play up-tempo and not slow down to the Cougars’ effective pace. They needed to find a way to take advantage of Kelvin Sampson’s short bench. Guys like Troy Harper had to make it to the line and make their free-throws. While much of those goals probably seem pretty simple, staying disciplined and playing within your game plan is not always that easy. Saturday in Lynchburg, the Dragons did what they had to do. It wasn’t easy, and it certainly was not pretty, but they got it done.
The first 20 minutes of basketball left many fans wondering how the Dragons were still in the game. Their eight turnovers were dwarfed by Houston’s two. That meant that Drexel turned the ball over about one out of every five possessions. They were out-rebounded 22 to 17 with 10 of those 22 Cougar rebounds being on the offensive glass. While they pushed the ball up the court, they averaged about 17 seconds per possession. There were two things that kept them in the game: three-point shooting and free-throw shooting.
The departure of Kari Jonsson left many wondering who would be the answer for this team from three. Friday’s game was made up of a team effort with the group on the floor shooting a combined 6 for 15 with Tramaine Isabell being the lone Dragon to net two. It has been a long time since Drexel had a really good free-throw shooting team. Their first round game in Houston showed that this group can hold their own at the line. As a team, Drexel shot 12 for 14 in the first 20 minutes with Sammy Mojica and Austin Williams missing one each.
Despite their turnover and rebound woes, Drexel somehow kept the game close and went to the locker room trailing the Cougars 45 to 38. As expected, Robert Gray put up a dominant 23 point performance in 17 minutes on 8 of 12 shooting. Drexel was led by Jarvis Doles’ 9 points. For the Dragons, the best was yet to come.
Drexel came out firing in the second half, trading blows with the Cougars, but not letting their opponents get the best of them. On defense, they made four steals, and were able to hold Robert Gray scoreless for more than 8 minutes. In his 19 minutes on the floor, Kurk Lee did a great job controlling Drexel’s run of play. The sophomore guard committed just one of Drexel’s five second half turnovers, and contributed 11 points on 5 of 10 shooting for the half. The real star of the night though was Tramaine Isabell.
When sharing his preseason thoughts on Tramaine Isabell, Drexel graduate Major Canaday called him “. . . one of the best individuals I’ve seen play here at Drexel University.” The junior transfer was able to live up to some of that praise against the Cougars. Isabell poured in 21 points, his most ever against a Division 1 school, and amassed a game high 16 rebounds. He played explosive, aggressive basketball on the offensive end of the court and committed just one turnover. His biggest contribution though came from the free-throw line.
The Dragons, as a team, finished the game 27 for 31 from the line. Isabell was 8 for 8, and Troy Harper, who played an excellent game of his own, poured in a perfect 9 for 9 from the line himself. After having to rely on the three to keep the game close in the first half, Drexel was 3 for 9 from beyond the arc in the second.
When the dust settled, the Dragons had four players in double figures: Isabell with 22, Lee with 16, Sammy Mojica with a solid 15 points, and Harper with 11. Jarvis Doles, who started, saw limited minutes but contributed 9 points of his own in the first half.
This game was not pretty. While the second half looked a lot better than the first, the Dragons still have a lot that they need to work on. Right now though, none of that matters. This is not the time to dwell on what could have happened Friday afternoon. Right now is the time to focus on what did happen. The Drexel Dragons, led by second year head coach Zach Spiker, and an undersized, overlooked sophomore point guard who has emerged as the heart and soul of this team, pulled off a major upset. They won a game that virtually no one thought that they would be capable of winning. They did it because they trusted the system.
Drexel returns to the hardwood tomorrow against Mercer at 6pm. Dan will have the coverage for that game. Go Dragons!