Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
Discipline on defense -- their signature quality -- slipped away from Drexel in their opener against Kent State. It led to a wacky finish that definitely isn't what the Golden Flashes would have drawn up in the huddle. What went wrong with the Dragons?
In one of the most unorthodox season openers the CAA-favorite Drexel Dragons marched into Kent, Ohio, and repeatedly shot themselves in the foot until the game was out of reach. The Dragons fell to Kent State 66-62 in overtime, displaying the most glaring mental mistakes in the process.
With 31 seconds remaining and Drexel trailing by three, the Dragons missed their shot. But the rebound kicked right to their offensive silver lining, guard Chris Fouch, who promptly knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 62.
Only somebody forgot to inform Derrick Thomas the game was tied.
Rather than playing tight defense and trying to hold the Golden Flashes to a poor shot to force double overtime, Thomas seemed to think the Dragons were still trailing. With 17 seconds left (remember, tie game!) he intentionally fouled Kent State on the inbounds pass. Two inexplicable free throws later, the Flashes were up for good, capitalizing on a series of events that essentially encapsulated Drexel's night.
The game featured sloppy play from both sides, including 10 turnovers per team in the first half -- somewhat expected in the first game of the year. Even so, every time Drexel found themselves in some semblance of an offensive rhythm, they felt the need to let Kent State right back into the game with a number of miscues.
Whether it was starting the game 2-for-9 from the field (including 1-for-6 from 3-point range), or allowing the Flashes to rattle off three straight, wide-open 3-pointers to start the second half, Drexel never seemed to find the same flow that the 2011-12 flavor did.
CAA preseason player of the year Frantz Massenat exemplified the Dragons' struggle, scoring just 6 points on 3-for-10 shooting and logging a 28.57% scoring efficiency. He was also involved in one of the more anticlimactic final possessions of regulation in which he double-dribbled the Dragons' chances away with the game tied at 55.
The other half of Drexel's CAA first-team duo, sophomore guard Damion Lee, was only marginally more productive. He scored eight points on 4 of 11 shooting (a 26.67% scoring efficiency). Lee forced up four 3-point attempts throughout the game, a cornerstone of his game last year, but was unable to connect on a single one.
Fouch, however, refused to let the Dragons offense falter as he picked up the slack from behind the arc, knocking down 6 of 12 3-point attempts. He wasn't terribly efficient (42.86%), but whenever the Dragons needed a big shot, Fouch was there to hit it.
The rest of the offense wasn't very good at seizing the moment. Although Kent State went cold for more than seven minutes at the end of the first half, the Dragons somehow let the Flashes turn that into an advantage. Their lead dissolved into a one-point deficit before Fouch's 3-pointer put them briefly on top.
The guards started the second half with a little more success, finding offense in the lanes, but they were quickly stifled by a combination of solid paint defense from Kent State and their own inaccuracy from the field.
While the guards may have disappointed, one thing Drexel can take away is that the trio of forwards they have can hold their own under the hoop and on the boards.
Admittedly, they ran into an impressive offensive display by Kent State's Chris Evans (21 points, 9 rebounds, 63.64% ScEf) and a solid defensive effort from Mark Henniger. But both Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy were still able to play their game well, especially Ruffin, who notched nine rebounds and helped Drexel rack up 16 second-chance points. They were helped by a stalwart performance from sophomore Kazembe Abif, who grabbed eight rebounds and scored eight points off the bench.
If you step back from this game for a moment, fans must remember that this is essentially the same team that started last season's campaign with a sloth-like 2-4 record before rattling off a 19-game win streak to claim the regular season CAA title.
I can't guarantee that the same thing will come of this season's sluggish start, but it is best to take a deep breath and simply move on to the home opener against Illinois State on Nov. 15. Everybody knows that Massenat won't be limited to six points again, that Lee won't go 0-for-4 from 3-point range again, and that Thomas won't intentionally foul in a tie game again. Bruiser Flint's head might explode if that did happen.
These were all anomalies. Do the Dragons have a decent amount of work to do? There's no question about it.
However, the defense was still stingy, Fouch is still a 3-point sharpshooter, and this team will still win the CAA. They just need their guards to remember that the ball goes in the hoop.