The clichés, and the first half score of DU 33 – Towson 31, may have told you that the Dragons could have been given a run for their money. In the halftime locker room, Denise Dillon wasn’t hearing that talk. While she asked her team to slow the game down and present a defensive focus, tenth seeded Towson was unlikely to shoot 57% from distance in the second half whether the Dragons cranked up the intensity or not. Where the brilliance really showed through was on the offensive side. In the first half, the Dragons ran an offense that most college teams would kill for: 50% shooting with only 3 turnovers. As it turns out, they had been going easy on the Tigers.
Breaking down the shooting further revealed the hidden win of the first half. Drexel was a perfectly acceptable 5/14 (36%) from behind the arc before the break. They were also 8/12 (67%) from inside it. Coming out of the half, there was no messing around. While Towson extended out their defense to withstand an anticipated barrage of three point attempts, Drexel ran their offense the other direction. Drexel’s shot selection from behind the arc was much more restrained, and Kelsi Lidge became an impact player with cuts through the paint. Lidge, who didn’t put up a shot from the field in the first half, was an efficiency monster in the second, going 4/5 from the field (4/4 from two point range) and getting to the line and going 3/4 from the charity stripe without a turnover to her name.
Lidge, along with team leaders Sarah Curran and Meghan Creighton, combined to go 12/14 from the field in the second half, and there was simply no way the Towson team could keep up with the breakneck pace of the Drexel offense. In fact, the Drexel defense also clamped down, holding -Towson to 39% from the field after the half.
Not only did Drexel pickup the 71-54 win, taking care of their own business, they also got help across the bracket after their game concluded. Six seed Northeastern took down three seed Hofstra. Hofstra was one of four CAA teams in the top 100 in the RPI, along with Drexel, JMU and Elon, and would have been Drexel’s second round opponent. Now it’ll be a Northeastern team next up for the Dragons, and while on paper that looks like a preferred matchup, in reality it’s a program the Dragons have struggled to beat in recent seasons, losing twice to the Huskies in the past three seasons, including a split with Northeastern this year.
In both games against NU during the current campaign the theme has been simple: It has been very tough to get inside. Everything that worked so well in the second half against Towson has been a brick wall against the Northeastern defenders. That has led to an uptempo pace that the Dragons are uncomfortable playing and an emphasis on the three point field goal to a point that is hard to believe. In the two games this season, DU has taken 69 three point attempts, which is a staggering number. While the team shoots a healthy percentage, and rebounding hasn’t been as much of an issue in these games as one might expect, there is still a certain risk putting all of the teams hopes into the most unpredictable shot in the game, especially on short rest.
As an underdog, teams should want to push the game to be as unpredictable as possible. A game that ends predictably is not a good thing when your team is expected to lose. With Northeastern being a healthy underdog in this contest, expect them to throw plenty of zone and challenge the Drexel team to take another barrage of shots from downtown. Add to that NU forcing the tempo in a quick turnaround game, and the Dragons could be looking at tired legs needing to shoot well to win. That’s a dangerous combination. Denise Dillon will look to slow things down and emulate the second half of Thursday’s game against Towson, and try to bring this game right into the envelope of predictability that will bring comfort to the coaching staff. At the end of the day, Drexel fans should take solace in a strong team with an even stronger staff.
Prediction: Drexel 66, Northeastern 60