Score: Northeastern 61, Drexel 59
Drexel Player(s) of the Game: Kazembe Abif, Tavon Allen, and Chandler Fraser-Paul
Key to the Game: Composure and execution
Next Game: Friday March 4 vs Elon at Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore, MD (CAA Championship)
Saturday’s contest against Northeastern marked the end of what can arguably be identified as one of the most difficult seasons in Drexel basketball history. It was also the last time that Tavon Allen and Kazembe Abif would take to the court at the DAC. There is so much that one could write about both of their careers, storied in their own ways, but for now the focus will be on the Saturday afternoon matchup against the Huskies.
Drexel has proven themselves to be a team that will break a fan’s heart. A frequent shortcoming that has been discussed from the coaches mouth to the internet to the stands to the parking garage elevator across the street from the DAC has been their inability to string together 40 minutes of quality basketball. This team will look great for 20-30 minutes depending on their opponent, and then they will crumble right in front of your eyes. This was the case in Saturday’s contest as well.
For the first thirty minutes of this game, the team looked great. They shot well. They played aggressive defense. Tavon Allen once again looked like a player possessed, at least for the first half, as he led his team on a 24-10 run over the course of the last 10 minutes of the first frame pouring in 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting. His 5 for 8 three point display led once again to the Drexel record books and Mike Wisler’s 9 threes against Hartford on February 13, 1994.
When the buzzer sounded and the teams headed to their locker rooms to regroup, Drexel found themselves ahead 34-27 on 52% shooting from the field. It also bears mentioning that no Dragon made it to the free throw line in the first half. They outrebounded Northeastern 12-10, and won the turnover battle with 5 as compared to NU’s 9. All indicators pointed toward a Dragon dominance.
The second half started out with more of the same. In the first ten minutes of the half, Drexel controlled the game outscoring Northeastern 15-11 to finish a 39-21 run over 20 minutes. During that stretch, Drexel shot 17 for 28 from the field, and 5 for 9 from three. During the rest of the game they were 7 for 25 and 4 for 11 respectfully.
One of the in game matchups to watch was Rodney Williams against the Northeastern frontcourt. Rodney found himself battling all day on the blocks. The matchup was reminiscent of the first meeting with the team that saw Williams handle his foes admirably. Saturday’s rematch did not see the same result. Jeremy Miller, who earned his 4th foul of the game at the 11:36 mark of the second half, and to a lesser extent Kwesi Abakah were hammering him both on the shot and on the blocks. Most of it went uncalled. Williams finished with just 2 points on 1-6 shooting.
At the 9:30 mark, Williams made a play that showed just how much he has grown this season. After being fed the ball on the low post, everybody in the building expected the Dragons big man to take the ball to the hole. Instead, he kicked it back to a wide open Rashann London the perimeter who drilled a three pointer giving Drexel their biggest lead, 11 points, with 9:19 remaining. Northeastern came down the court and called a timeout with 8:56 to go, and Drexel well in control of the game.
Northeastern came out of the huddle with a plan and a fresh outlook on the game. Their 7-0 run in the following three minutes prompted a timeout by Bruiser Flint. Two minutes later, Northeastern had poured in 8 more points bringing the run to 15-0 leaving Bruiser to call another timeout, and when I say Bruiser, I mean Bruiser. He stood on the sideline yelling at the referee for a timeout while the ball was in play. Finally, Terrell Allen who had brought the ball to the sideline called it for him. The look that he shot at the ref was met with a lecture the subject of which was how he was no longer allowed to call timeouts with the ball in play, a rule change that went into effect at the beginning of this season.
Drexel, who had won 11 consecutive close regular season games when leading, walked into the last four minutes of this contest with a 50-49 lead and they now trailed by 4. David Walker, who had hit five consecutive three pointers in the first meeting between these teams, had just put down his third in a row. The Dragons were visibly rattled. Their freshman point guard was not giving up though. Terrell Allen took his game to another level scoring all 7 of his points in a two and a half minute stretch. If one read the box score, they would imagine Terrell had slow game, but the young floor general turned in another top notch performance.
His efforts, however, were not enough. With Drexel leading 59-58, Northeastern headed back to the huddle to draw up a play for Zach Stahl who made a layup in the paint. There appeared to be some communication issues on the pick and roll executed by Caleb Donnelly and Stahl was left open for an easy layup. Now trailing 60-59, with the shot clock off and 24 seconds remaining, Bruiser Flint used his last timeout to head in to a huddle of his own.
After running through the early stages of their offense, the ball found itself in Tavon Allen’s hands. The senior, whose 23 point first half was followed up by a 2-10 performance with 4 turnovers in the second half, drove to the hoop for a leaning one hander from about six feet out that couldn’t find the mark. Rashann London grabbed the rebound and put up an unsuccessful put back of his own. The ball then found itself in Quincy Ford’s hands. Kaz Abif’s wrestling match with the Northeastern senior resulted in a whistle that fans in the building thought would be a jump ball. The referee disagreed, calling Kaz for a foul and sending Ford down the floor to shoot 1-and-1. He made the front end, but the second free throw fell in the hands of Rodney Williams who handed the ball off to Terrell Allen sending the point guard barreling down the court with 6 seconds to go.
As Allen crossed half court, he looked as if he was going to try and go coast to coast. Instead, he gave Tavon Allen one more shot at greatness as he handed the ball off to the senior on the right wing for an NBA range three that careened off the rim as the buzzer sounded giving the Huskies a 61-59 victory. Once again, coaches, players and fans alike found themselves walking out the door saying to themselves, “we could have won this one.”
The players gave 110% on the court, as they always do, but just seemed to come unraveled when Northeastern started to fight back. Walker became the hot hand on the court going 4-4 from three down the stretch. Control became chaos, and what was a remarkably calm Bruiser Flint by Bruiser standards, became more animated. The Dragons just could not hold the lead in the clutch, something that they have traditionally been able to do. Drexel’s record at home fell to 3-9 in a game that meant nothing to the standings, and everything to the seniors who wanted to leave the DAC with a win.
The co-players of the game for this match-up goes to three players: Tavon Allen, for his years of dedication to the program. His heart and determination speak loudly on the floor. Kazembe Abif, who will get votes for Dragons MVP, for his ability to step back on the court and be this team’s heart and soul on the floor. He showed true leadership out there throughout the season.
Finally, Chandler Fraser-Paul. The grad student, former Lafayette soccer player, who wanted to use a year of eligibility to play basketball in hopes of a future career in coaching was this team’s biggest leader on the bench. He cheered on each and every teammate on the floor regardless of the score or the situation that they found themselves in. Despite his efforts, he has yet to score a point in college basketball, something that is a dream of his.
The Dragons now head to Baltimore for a Pillow Fight Friday matchup with Elon. Here’s hoping that Kaz, Tavon and CFP have just a little magic left in their tank. No team has ever won four consecutive games to go home with the CAA Championship. Could Bruiser’s 0-14 streak finally come to an end? We’ll have to wait and see.