At one point in the second half of the Jan. 14 game versus Towson University, the Drexel men’s basketball team’s lineup was composed of four players who began the season on the bench and one who graduated in June.
The Dragons are battered and tattered, and as a result of a growing slew of injuries, the team dropped Tuesday evening’s showdown with the Tigers, 80-68.
But despite the bevy of injuries facing his team — missing starting forwards Dartaye Ruffin and Kazembe Abif and swingman Tavon Allen — head coach James “Bruiser” Flint did not want to blame the loss on being shorthanded. The Dragons had a number of chances. They just didn’t execute on what was given to them.
“We have who we have,” Flint told reporters after the game. “You have to keep playing. The guys that we have, you have to try to prepare yourself to win.
“If we make plays, it doesn’t matter who’s on the floor; we can play with anybody. [But] we didn’t do that.”
Flint has remained steadfast in two beliefs for the past two, seemingly cursed, years: the Dragons can play their game no matter the personnel on the floor, and the Dragons need to make more plays when they matter.
Against Towson, despite being without its top two forwards (and, by extension, its top two rebounders), Drexel grabbed seven more rebounds than the Tigers. Freshman forward Rodney Williams made good use of his 30 minutes, grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds as he competed with Towson’s junior forward Jerrelle Benimon, who is widely regarded as one of the premier mid-major players in the country.
But as Flint said, the Dragons were unable to make plays when they needed them most, and that was their downfall.
Despite piling up 24 offensive rebounds and out-rebounding the Tigers, Drexel managed only 13 second-chance points. That is essentially 25 percent of the points that could have been scored had they managed to convert each offensive rebound into a two-point field goal.
No matter the statistic, 25 percent is an unacceptable figure.
Coincidentally, the team converted only 25 percent of its three-point attempts as well. Entering the game shooting 28 percent from behind the arc, the Dragons attempted 24 from long range against Towson because they spent most of the night trailing.
The offense, known to be deeply routine-based and mildly simplistic, was reduced to a three-point shooting mini-game.
Sixth-year shooting guard Chris Fouch, who dropped a game-high 28 points, but took 27 shots to do so, admitted he did not have his best game, “I wanted to bring energy from the start of the game, [but I] shot the ball [terribly] today,”
Coming off the Jan.11 game versus Northeastern University in which he scored 31 points on 70 percent efficiency — possibly the best scoring performance of his Drexel career — Fouch and senior point guard Frantz Massenat felt the pressure early and often versus Towson.
With Allen out with a sprained ankle he suffered against Northeastern, those two scored 49 of the team’s 68 points, which was 72 percent of the team’s output. That is a great amount of points from the team’s backcourt, but Massenat and Fouch combined to shoot 16-46, something their head coach didn’t enjoy.
“We had two guys who were scoring the ball,” Flint said. “Dudes were all over [them].”
The rest of the team shot 7-26, an unacceptable mark, and the Dragons went 23-72 from the field as a team.
The chances were certainly there for Flint’s squad to pull off the unlikely victory. By forcing 12 turnovers and grabbing 24 offensive boards, Drexel was able to attempt 25 more field goals than the Tigers, but they converted three fewer.
“We missed a lot of easy ones tonight,” Flint said. “We missed layups, foul shots. Now you don’t put any pressure on them, so they play at a coast.”
Flint’s vaunted defense has allowed at least 80 points in its last three contests. For comparison, his teams allowed 80 or more points just three times in the last three seasons overall.
A large part of the defense’s slip can be attributed to the injuries to Ruffin and Abif. However, the offense’s inability to help itself out when the Dragons have the ball is starting to weigh on the performance on the other end.
Looking ahead, Drexel returns to action Jan. 18 when they travel to the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The team has yet to release statements on the availability of Tavon Allen, Kazembe Abif or Dartaye Ruffin for that game.
“When they get back, they’ll get back,” Flint said of his injured players. “We have what we have … and the guys that we have, they have to prepare themselves and try to win.”