Final: Towson 80, Drexel 68 at The DAC
Player of the Game: Chris Fouch
Key to the game: Perimeter D (or lack thereof)
Next Game: Sat Jan 18 vs UNCW @ Trask Coliseum
Known as a defense first coach, it's no surprise that it was four years since Bruiser Flint's Drexel Dragons have allowed over one point per possession in four straight games. It's time to reset that clock, as Drexel opponents have crushed that number in the last four games (divide by 100 for PPP):
It's easy to blame injuries for this. Towson was one of the worst matchups in the conference with the current injuries, as Jerrelle Benimon and Marcus Damas can play around the perimeter and at 6'8" and 6'7" they would normally have been the problem of Kazembe Abif and the combination of Damion Lee and Tavon Allen. Instead, guys like Massenat and Canady were asked to pick them up, and on their best day that would be a struggle. Benimon and Damas ought to be able to muscle the ball inside and get good close to the basket looks over those guys. And they did, shooting 12/17 (71%) from inside the arc. The problem is, they also shot 6/7 (86%) from outside the arc.
In the first half, with the score Towson 19, Drexel 11 (Benimon 11, on two 2's, two 3's, and a free throw) and about 12 minutes left on the clock until halftime, Bruiser Flint threw a zone. To that point Towson was 7/8 from the floor with 4 turnovers. In twelve possessions, the Tigers had missed one single shot. Bru answered that by going zone, and I answered that answer by being angry.
By the numbers, the zone worked. In the 11 minutes and change that the Dragons were in the 2-3 setup they allowed 1.61 points per minute. In the 28 minutes and change they were in man the number was 2.15 points per minute (points per possession was in line with those numbers). The thought behind the zone, going off of Bruiser's own statements during his career and basic coaching is that it would cause less foul trouble for Drexel (it did) and would stop giving up easy buckets in the paint to Towson. That's where this comes off the rails. Towson was 4/6 from inside the arc against the zone and got to the line 7 times, making only 2 shots. They shot 18/23 from the line the rest of the game and no, the zone doesn't get credit for the free throw defense. Luck does. The same is true of the three point shooting. Against the zone, where DU was ostensibly conceding the perimeter, Towson shot 3/9 (33%) from three point range. Against the man that number was 5/7 (71%).
Essentially, the zone didn't stop what it was supposed to stop (Towson's interior play) or anything else. It gave up open looks outside, it gave up drives to the basket and it put Towson on the line (at a slightly lower rate then man to man did). The best thing Bruiser did in this game was to go back to man out of halftime. The worst thing he did was to stay in the zone for longer then two minutes it took to see that the Towson walkons could have lit it up.
From inside the arc, Towson went 4/6 against the zone and when DU was in man to man Towson went 14/25 (56%). Given the small sample against the zone lets chalk it up to what our eyes saw, and say that inside the arc the zone was no more or less effective then the man, giving the zone the benefit of the doubt in this case. Since man to man should be more effective against the three point shot, clearly that was the favorable defense to be in. The problem is that life did not imitate the theory. Towson was red hot from deep when Drexel was in the zone. This is where DU's biggest defensive problem lied. Time after time, Towson his deep 3's or corner 3's, almost all very good open looks. In man to man the Drexel defenders did a terrible job of stepping out and getting in front of their assigned player on the perimeter. And herein I believe we have found the root of the Drexel defensive issues. If they were going to let their men get around them and to the basket, they damned well ought to be shutting them down from the perimeter, and that was a complete bust. In past years Bruiser would start yanking players left and right, regardless of depth when someone slacked off on their perimeter D. If it meant putting Adrian Hynes-Whatever out there, he'd do it.
But the panic button pushing, zone playing, 4 guard displaying, holding on for dear life Bruiser Flint isn't showing that fire anymore. Yes the technicals are down, as are the quotes, as are is the player under bus tossing, all good things, but in finding that restraint, he's also... found restraint. And this was a game in where he could have used some fire, desperately needing guys to say how high when he told them to jump. Instead he let an exhausted Chris Fouch keep chucking up 2nd half shots (Chris had four made baskets in the first ten minutes of the second half and went 0/5 in the back 10 minutes. The first time he was subbed out in the half was with 52 seconds left in the contest. Again, Bruiser can fall back on injuries as an excuse for that, but he simply has to do better by his player there. And if injuries are the excuse, then there was no reason for Fouch to be in the game with Towson up 14 and just three minutes to play as preventing a Fouch injury should be a top priority. He can't have it both ways.
A cap tip to Towson for shooting very well in this contest. At the same time, the Drexel players destroyed them on the boards, won the turnover battle, played hard, did what their coach asked and went down by double digits. Part of the reason was injuries. Part of the reason was shooting. Where to put the rest? That's upto you. But if the Dragons want to turn this ship around, they need to reward their offense with good defense.