Monday, December 16, 2013

Drexel Outlasts Davidson

Yesterday at Belk Arena, Davidson hosted Drexel in a match-up of two of the better mid major programs in the country.  It was by chance that my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, and I were able to see the game.  Due to the torrential rain on Saturday, Matthew's pickup baseball game was canceled because the Little League field he plays on was covered with large puddles.  So instead, we spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in Davidson, North Carolina.

Last season, both the Dragons and the Wildcats were favored to win their conferences.  Davidson held up their end of the bargain, winning the Southern Conference Tournament, then led Marquette most of the way before losing on a last second game winning layup by the Golden Eagles.  Meanwhile, Chris Fouch got hurt for the Dragons during their third game of the season and Drexel never recovered, finishing 13-19 on the season and losing in the second round of the CAA Tournament to George Mason.

Entering the game, both teams were down some of their best players.   Davidson was without leading scorer, senior forward De'Mon Brooks, who had missed the four previous games as well with a knee injury suffered during a loss to Clemson.  The Wildcats were also without senior guard Tom Droney, who injured his foot in a loss to Niagara.  Between Brooks and Droney, they average 30 points and 10 rebounds per game.  The Dragons are without starting guard Damion Lee for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. Lee was the team's leading scorer last season, averaging 17 points per game.  Before he got hurt, Lee was averaging thirteen points per game.   So you could day both teams were equally disadvantaged entering the game.

Belk Arena is one of my favorite arenas in the country.  It seats a little more than 5,000 people and the rafters are rich with the history of Davidson Basketball.   Scores of NCAA Tournament and Southern Conference championship banners fill the top of the arena.  But after seventy plus years of affiliation with the SoCon (sans a period of four years in the late eighties/early nineties where Davidson was an independent, then a member of the Big South), the Wildcats will be leaving the conference after this season to join the A-10.

Matthew and I weren't the only CAA stalwarts at the game.  Dan Crain, author of the terrific Dragons Speak blog and longtime fellow #CAAHoops tweeter made the trip down, along with several friends, from Philadelphia for the game and just happened to have seats right next to us.    Dan was looking forward to the Drexel debut of junior guard Freddie Wilson, a transfer from Seton Hall.

It was clearly evident from the start that Drexel's plan was to drive it inside on Davidson.  The Dragons' first eight points came from within the arc, mostly on layups.  Meanwhile, Davidson struggled from the field, missing on their first twelve shots of the game.   Yet the Wildcats managed to stay close early on, trailing only 8-7 with all their points coming from free throws.

But it was only a matter of time before Davidson's cold shooting would come into play.  Drexel would score the next ten points over the next five plus minutes.  A Frantz Massenat jumper would put the Dragons up 18-7 with 10:15 left in the first half.  Wildcats' coach Bob McKillop called timeout to try to get his team going from the field.

It took nearly eleven and a half minutes of game action, but Davidson finally hit their first field goal, a three pointer by Brian Sullivan.  Tyler Kalinoski followed with an old fashioned three point play and suddenly the Wildcats were only down five, 18-13.   Davidson hung around for the next few minutes, only trailing by six, 26-20 with a little less than four and a half minutes left.

But without Brooks, Davidson had no inside scoring threat and continued to miss regularly from outside the arc.  Meanwhile, Massenat was a one man wrecking crew for the Dragons.  He first scored on a three point play to put Drexel up nine.  Then he buried a three pointer to put the Dragons up twelve, 32-20.  Later a Kazembe Abif three point play put Drexel up fourteen, 37-23.  Davidson scored the final four points of the half, much to the chagrin of Dragons' coach Bruiser Flint and the Wildcats were only down ten, 37-27 at the half.

Davidson has a great halftime fan participation game, a variation of "Musical Chairs".   Several kids dribble around a group of chairs at center court while music plays.  When the music stops, the kids have to go to either basket and make a layup.  If they make the layup, then can dribble back to the chairs.   One by one, a kid was eliminated.  It got down to two kids and it turned out both kids ended up on the single chair at the same time, which resulted in a tie.  The fans gave the kids a rousing ovation for a well played game.

The start of the second half had Chris Fouch channeling Loren Stokes (Google "Loren Stokes") with a couple of floaters in the lane to put Drexel up 41-29.  The Dragons maintained their eleven point lead, 44-33 with about fifteen minutes left.

Davidson went on a 11-5 mini spurt over the next three and half minutes.  A Jake Belford three cut the Drexel lead to six, 46-40 with eleven and half minutes left in the game.  Over the next few minutes, Davidson stayed within six, 50-44 with a little less than eight minutes left in the game.

But the Wildcats would get no closer.  The Dragons outscored them 9-4 over the next three minutes. The newest Dragon, Wilson, would score four of those points within the span.  A Fouch three pointer put Drexel up 59-48 with just less than five minutes left.

Davidson had several opportunities from the free throw line to cut the deficit to as little as three points.  But the Wildcats missed four of six free throw attempts over the span of thirty seven seconds.  A Jordan Barham layup cut the deficit to seven, 59-52 with 2:47 left.

But Massenat would score nine of the last thirteen Dragons' points, seven on free throws despite a fan trying to distract him with a large Ron Burgundy head, as Drexel would defeat Davidson 72-58.  With the win, Drexel is now 7-2 on the season, with their only two losses against #22 UCLA and #1 Arizona.  Davidson falls to 4-7 on the season.

Massenat was a stat sheet stuffer on the day, leading all scorers with twenty five points and adding seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.  Fouch had seventeen points, while the newcomer Wilson added seven points.  The Dragons out-rebounded the Wildcats 47-38, not surprising considering Drexel is 44th in the country in rebounds.

Sullivan led Davidson with fourteen points, Kalinoski added thirteen points and Barham had eleven for the Wildcats.  Davidson was held to thirty two percent shooting from the field including an ugly 3 of 22 from beyond the arc.  The Wildcats also struggled from the line, missing fourteen free throws.

For a team that is trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996, Drexel appears to be back to their 2011-12 form.  But they have their annual test at fellow Philly native St Joe's on December 18.  Another road win over the Hawks would further strengthen their non conference resume.

Meanwhile, things don't get easier for Davidson.   The Wildcats have consecutive road games vs. North Carolina and Wichita State, both nationally ranked before playing former conference foe College of Charleston on New Year's Day.  Then they start their last regular conference season in the SoCon.

Davidson very likely will be under .500 when they start conference play, Then again, in the 2007-08 season, the Wildcats started the season 4-6.  They never lost again that season until the Elite Eight against Kansas.  Never count out a Bob McKillop team.

Matthew and I said our goodbyes to Dan and his friends and wished them a safe trip back to Philly.  Then we walked back into town, made our way to our car and headed home.  On a nice sunny, relatively warm December day, maybe Matthew and I saw two eventual 2014 NCAA Tournament Teams.

One never knows in the wacky world that is college basketball.

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