Scott Kier returns with a recap of the Drexel/Northeastern game. Thanks as always to Scott for his continuing contributions to Dragons Speak.
Final Score: Northeastern 70, Drexel 60
Drexel Player of the Game: Rodney Williams
Key to the Game: Sticking to the Gameplan
Next Game: Thursday February 18 vs Elon @ the DAC
One of the frequent criticisms that the Dragons have found themselves facing this season has been their inability to continue doing what works. As games progressed, the team seemed to regress back to their “guards first” strategy that they have commonly turned to in years past. With the makeup of this team, and the general lack of a consistent three-point shooter, Drexel has had to find another answer.
Up against a nine game losing streak, Bruiser Flint and his team headed to Boston, Massachusetts to face the Northeastern Huskies for the first of two meetings that will happen over the next couple of weeks, as the CAA regular season winds down. The Huskies, who feature some of the best three-point shooters in the CAA this season, came out of the gate firing. Led by David Walker, who was a perfect 5-5 from three in the first half, the Huskies ran out to a 15-point lead at halftime.
As they have done on more than one occasion this season, Drexel battled back in the second half. Getting as close as 8 points with just under 4 minutes to go. Northeastern held out, however, ultimately beating the Dragons by a score of 70-60. Topically, this game might have seemed like just another double digit loss suffered by this year’s team, but when you dig closer there were a lot of good signals shown by the Dragons on Saturday.
First, as a team, the Dragons showed themselves to be very disciplined sticking to their initial game plan: get the ball inside, and create from the post. Rodney Williams put up a career high 23 points on 9-11 shooting. Kazembe Abif added 6 points of his own. The Dragons shot 52% from the field for the game, 65% from inside the arc. Subtracting Tavon Allen’s 1-6 performance from downtown, the guards were 4-11 from three which, as compared to past games, was pretty admirable.
Rodney Williams played like a man possessed. He frequently found himself double teamed, and after Jeremy Miller picked up his fourth foul shortly into the second half, Northeastern was forced to turn to Kwesi Abakah as Miller’s replacement. Abakah just could not keep up with Williams who went 4-5 from the field. When Abakah picked up his fourth foul, Northeastern was forced to shift from their normal 2-3 defensive set to a 3-2 set, creating more space for Williams on the block. All in all, the Dragons scored 28 of their 60 points in the paint and shot 61% from the floor in the second half.
Now for the not-so-good.
The Dragons struggled to cover Northeastern on the perimeter. David Walker, in particular, was lights out from three, and the Dragons initial response to this was to cover him with Sammy Mojica. Tavon Allen, who has found himself coming off the bench more often this season, has proven himself to be a strong defender despite his struggles on the offensive side of the court. Time after time, early in the game, Walker found himself taking a virtually uncontested three pointers. They needed to “D” him up a little tighter, and Tavon might have been a great option there.
Late in the first half, Bruiser decided to make the rarely attempted move of taking both Kaz Abif and Rodney Williams off the floor. The big men were replaced by Tyshawn Myles and Austin Williams who had played together for all of nine minutes thus far this year. In an even bigger head scratcher, Bruiser then shifted his team into a 2-3 zone of their own. The problem is one of the biggest vulnerabilities of the 2-3 is that it is a traditionally weak defensive scheme against strong outside shooters like the Huskies. Thankfully, in the 90 seconds that the Dragons played their rarely used zone “D” which has not been seen since Mike Conners tried to construct it last season, the Huskies only made one three pointer.
Then, there was the foul shooting. Coming into Saturday’s contest, the Dragons were shooting 69% from the free throw line. In Saturday’s game, they found themselves at the line 16 times making just 7 free throws. They kept their turnovers down, made their shots from inside, but could not convert from the line. While they were 6 for 9 in the second half, the 1 for 7 start in the first twenty minutes created an even more difficult mountain to climb for Bru’s crew.
Mohamed Bah once again found himself at the end of the Drexel bench. His demotion was so severe in the Northeastern game that he never made his way on to the court. Bah played a total of just 8 minutes in the three contests prior to the Northeastern game. One has to wonder if he has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff or if he has some nagging injury that has not been publicly reported. It seems reasonable to lean towards the latter based on the fact that his minutes did not gradually decrease but he just completely fell off the face of the earth after the Hofstra game.
There was plenty that the Dragons did, or did not do that contributed to their loss, however there was a lot to be proud of in this game. Their presence on the blocks was remarkable, and the team fully embraced that aspect of their game. At the 8-minute mark, Bruiser Flint decided on the lineup that he would use for the rest of the game. While some offensive/defensive subs might have been helpful as the game wrapped up, Bruiser put his best five on the floor when the game was close: Kaz, Rodney, Terrell, Rashann, and Mojica. Tavon Allen, who has struggled in late game situations, found himself on the bench for the first time this season when Drexel had a chance to battle their way back into the game.
While his defensive presence would have been helpful, Tavon has shot 3-18 over the past three games from three. He has not been making shots and Mojica, who had a good shooting day, was a much better option. A Sammy/Tavon offense/defense tandem might have been helpful, but ultimately, the Dragons battled back and have a lot of things to be proud of.
The Dragons return to the DAC Thursday night in a rematch against Elon. In their first meeting, Rodney Williams had a dominant 19 point performance. With some hard work and a little luck, here’s to hoping that Rodney can build on his performance Saturday in Boston. If the team sticks to their game plan, they will have a great chance at ending this ten game slide.