From the Drexel side, Damion Lee, a sophomore with the potential to be the best player in his conference by a mile, was painfully inconsistent without much of a middle ground. Either he hit every shot he took, like his 34 point display Feb. 28 against Old Dominion University, or he missed every shot, like in the Feb. 2 matchup against Northeastern University in which he shot 18 percent from the field.
During George Mason’s regular season, the Patriots’ chances usually relied on the play of their most explosive offensive player, junior guard Sherrod Wright. Seven of the Patriots’ 17 wins came when Wright eclipsed the 20-point mark, so that was a pretty good meter of what they would need to succeed against the Dragons March 9.
These two themes were entirely representative of the two teams’ first-round matchup in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. Unfortunately for Drexel, that didn’t bode very well.
As was common during the season, Lee found his meek, timid self on the court. Lee was practically nonexistent in the first half, scoring all four of his points on foul shots. He ended the night with 11 points, a pedestrian mark but not entirely unacceptable. But the tone for his second half was set just 2:03 into the half when he stole the ball from Sherrod Wright and went the other way, uncontested, just to miss a dunk.
He missed a dunk. At this point he had yet to hit a field goal, and the Dragons were down by four. Offense was clearly going to have to come from different sources.
The team turned to leader Frantz Massenat, who was busy stepping up all game. He played the role of the fantastic floor general the whole game, and in the first half he played the role of a magnet. Every time George Mason threatened to stretch the lead in the first 10 minutes, Massenat was there to hit a shot and bring the deficit to a manageable amount.
At halftime he had seven points, and at the end of the game he had 20. He had 36 percent of his team’s offense, which was impressive for him but bad for the Dragons’ chances.
Especially when Wright was on the other end of the court, knocking down free throws like it was his job.
Wright only scored five points in the first half, and as a result, the Patriots only led by four at halftime. But he and the rest of his team emerged re-energized in the second half. They came out with an intensity that the Dragons simply weren’t ready for, and George Mason used the advantage to score 17 of the first 21 points, building a 15-point lead 8:24 into the half.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that 12 of their first 23 points in the second half were free throws. In fact, just 6:25 into the second, there had been seven fouls called on the Dragons compared with zero on the Patriots. As you might imagine, Drexel head coach James “Bruiser” Flint and the DAC Pack were not too pleased.
However, it wasn’t time for the Dragons to complain. Instead, it was time for Massenat to play his game. After falling down 44-29, Massenat buried a three-pointer, made a layup, hit two free throws, and assisted another three-pointer in a 3:20 span of play to draw the game within seven points with eight minutes remaining. Massenat turned an increasing blowout into a competitive game, but the Dragons would still need a serious effort from their best player.
After a minor burst from Wright that put the Dragons down by 10, Massenat hit three free throws and another three-pointer to make the score 53-49 with 4:54 remaining. The comeback was in full effect. He then assisted on the next two buckets, a Kazembe Abif layup and a (gasp!) Lee three-pointer, to make it a two-point contest.
After trailing by 15 with 11:29 remaining in their season, the Dragons had drawn the gap down to just two points with 1:22 remaining, and when George Mason’s Bryon Allen missed a three-point attempt with 46 seconds left, the Dragons were going to have a chance to tie or take the lead, completing the comeback and sending them into the next round.
But there was one more common theme this year that recurred in the game: Drexel’s inability to sink big shots at the end of the game. The Dragons had drawn up a play, but according to Massenat, the play broke down almost immediately, and he was left to improvise a bucket. He airballed his three-point attempt, the Patriots nailed a few free throws, and the Dragons’ season was over.
It had been an exhilarating final 11 and a half minutes, but in the end it was the same story as usual for Flint’s squad. As Flint succinctly put it in the postgame press conference, “We haven’t made a play all season when we needed it. Bottom line.”
When you don’t make big plays, you don’t keep getting the chance to make those big plays. The Dragons will now have to wait until November for a chance to make that play.