Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
The CAA's best rivalry provided us with another fantastic iteration down in Philadelphia. Delaware hung on just -- and we mean just -- long enough to beat Drexel by two points in a fight between two middle of the road squads that have underperformed all year.
I knew this would be a good game.
I checked the schedule when the schools released them back on the second of September, and I mentally circled "Delaware @ Drexel, January 28, 7:00 PM at Daskalakis Athletic Center" for future reference.
I just figured that it would be for first place in the conference, not who would be two games under .500 instead of four. Delaware came out on top, advancing to 9-11, while Drexel fell to 8-12 after the 66-64 decision Monday night.
But you wouldn't have known that from the way the two teams fought. Delaware started blazing hot, jumping out to leads of 11-2 and 21-9 in the first half before settling into a seven-point cushion.
And with every one of Delaware's guards shooting 50 percent or better on the night, the Blue Hens had a 15-point lead with 5:20 left. A safe jaunt to the finish line, right?
Not on Damion Lee's watch.
After a 10-point first half, Lee exploded for 20 points in the second, including scoring 11 of Drexel's next 13 points as the Dragons narrowed the gap to a manageable six-point deficit with 2:50 left. He finished with a career-high 30.
Finished a bit early though. Lee was called for an off-the-ball foul that sent him to the bench for the remainder of the game. It was a call that even the NBCSports announcers called "horrible". Twice.
The Dragons managed to cut the lead to one with 25 seconds left and possession, but were undone by Frantz Massenat's continued shooting woes when he missed a layup with 10 seconds remaining. On the night, Massenat went 4 of 19, a difficult yet true microcosm of his play to this point in the year.
Outside of Lee, the help scoring wasn't there for the Dragons in the way it was for the Hens. Delaware -- shooting 50.9 percent on the night -- had four players in double digits and five players with 8 points or more. Drexel had two double-digit scorers, three with eight points or more.
Drexel even found a way to waste an off night from Delaware's nightly double-double Jamelle Hagins. He averages 11.3 rebounds per game; tonight he claimed only three.
Carl Baptiste was more than willing to step in for the senior, exploiting the Dragons' increasingly soft inside game for a career performance of eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
A rivalry is established for a reason.
To be honest, it was yet another ferocious installment in the ever-entertaining parade of hatred between the two schools. But it's a tough pill to swallow for Drexel knowing that they didn't have the best player in the arena on the court at the end.
And it's unnatural for anybody in this heated rivalry, whether you're a Hen or a Dragon, to watch anything but the best.