“The Punch”

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If you are a fan of Drexel basketball, one other thing is certain: Delaware sucks.  Its in your DNA.  It is like being a McCoy (no, not Daryl), because nobody likes a Hatfield.  Twice a year, we get to remind Delaware that they suck in person, and some of us keep the chant going on social media and in our personal lives.  Others even have it tattooed on their body.  But what about teams beyond our most hated rival?

Bill Herrion and the Drexel Dragons put themselves on the map in the mid-90’s.  Names like Malik Rose, Brian Holden, Mike DeRocckis, Jeff Myers and Joe Linderman were frequently thrown around the breakfast table the morning after a Drexel victory in many Dragon households with mine being one of them.  Herrion’s teams were a hardworking, fun bunch to watch play during his eight years at Drexel, as he posted just one losing season of the bunch which, coincidentally is also the subject of this article.

The 1997-98 season was not an overly memorable one for Herrion.  The Dragons were just two years removed from their third consecutive (and most recent) NCAA Tournament appearance in a row.  A seven point loss to Boston University in the 1996-97 America East Conference Tournament final prevented a fourth consecutive appearance and a failed opportunity to show the world that this team could dance without then-NBA rookie Malik Rose.

All of this background brings us to February 3rd, 1998.  Drexel took to the floor of the DAC with an 8-12 record, facing off against a dreadful 5-14 Towson Tigers team.  While fans rightfully talk a lot about Drexel’s record breaking come back against Delaware last season because, as we’ve already established, Delaware sucks, with five minutes remaining in the game, Drexel found themselves trailing by 16 points, 63-47 to Towson.  And then, “the punch” happened.

Drexel’s leading scorer, sophomore Joe Linderman took an entry pass on the block from the perimeter.  Linderman took a drop step to go to the hole, and Towson senior Derick Newton leveled him, not with an elbow, but with a straight punch to the face.  Linderman dropped.  Herrion came off the bench, and he was hot, and he had a right to be.  It was one of the most egregious, dirty plays that has been seen not only at Drexel but in the recent history of college basketball.  It was the kind of play that would make Grayson Allen blush.  Newton, reportedly a black belt in Karate, was served up technical foul and was ejected from the game.

Linderman was helped from the floor, and he would not return.  And the comeback began.  Tom Dearborn, a sophomore guard who saw limited action that season, subbed in a made the free throws.  And down by 14, Drexel took the ball at the baseline and Mike DeRrocckis took over.  First possession: three.  Third possession: three.  Drexel was down by eight, Towson was coming unraveled, and a pre-DAC Pack gym was coming alive.

Towson extended their lead to 12 before DeRocckis hit another three.  Following the make, Mike Kouser got called for a retaliation foul after he was also hit in the face by Towson’s Marlin Wise.  Typical.  The refs never seem to see the first one.  Two free throws for Towson, and yet another three in response by DeRocckis.  On Drexel’s next possession, their diminutive 5’7” point guard Greg Gaffney drilled a three of his own and drew a foul to turn a four-point play on a shot assist by. . . you guessed it. . . Mike DeRocckis.  Towson lead by four, with under two minutes remaining.

Herrion’s coaching was brilliant.  He made the right offensive/defensive substitutions and pressed aggressively as Towson continued to fall apart.  After a costly turnover, DeRocckis drained yet another three to close the Tigers’ leads to just one.  The fans were loud, and Drexel was poised to finish their comeback.  Yet another turnover, this time on a “carry” set up Drexel for one last play.  With less than a second remaining, none other than Mike DeRocckis drew a foul to put himself on the line in a one-and-one situation.  The junior, who started the comeback iced it, as he drained his only two free throws of the night.  Towson failed on their inbound play, and the Drexel fans stormed the court.  Appropriately, there did not appear to be any handshake line, except for Herrion and his coaches.  The moment belonged to the Dragons, who won a game for their ill-fated star player.

You don’t have to take my word for any of this though.  If you want to experience the excitement and goosebumps of this nail-biting comeback, just head over a season ticket holder’s YouTube page.  Jason Braun has those last five minutes and the postgame interviews cataloged in a series of videos.

When Towson’s star player transfers bound for greener pastures of a state that contains 140,000 square miles of desert, I smile.  When one of their players scores a basket on their own team, I laugh.  When Jarvis Doles unloads for a career high of 16 against them on a night that saw him earn a technical foul for “taunting” I cheer.  If you’re looking for a team to root against, and if you’re looking for a team to get loud against, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Towson Tigers.

Your text chance to root the Dragons on against Towson comes this Saturday.  Even if you are not able to be at the game in person, let the Tigers know what you think of them from your couch, at the very least.

Why?  Because Towson sucks too.

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