February 21, 2014 by Adam Hermann
The Drexel men’s basketball team runs a guard-oriented offense based on the personnel available to head coach James “Bruiser” Flint and his coaching staff. This much has been evident, and intentional, all season long.
What has become more readily apparent as the season has worn on — both to fans and the coaching staff — is that relying solely on guard play isn’t enough to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
If the Dragons have any dreams of steering through the conference tournament in early March, the offense will have to closely resemble the way it looked Feb. 16, in a 74-63 victory over Hofstra University.
Senior guards Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch combined for 40 points on 22 shot attempts, an impressively efficient outing from the Drexel backcourt.
An equally impressive difference-maker was the play of Drexel’s frontcourt, specifically senior and freshman forwards Dartaye Ruffin and Rodney Williams, whose virtues were extolled in the Feb. 14 issue of The Triangle.
The two finished with a combined 21 points and 16 rebounds and went a combined 9-10 from the free throw line. They established an aggressive, paint-attacking tone early and used it to Drexel’s advantage, crafting a well-balanced offensive attack that saw the Dragons shoot 48.9 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from deep.
After the game, Flint discussed how impressed he was with the way both of his forwards — Williams in particular — played.
“[Williams] is playing well. I actually think he’s probably the best young big guy in the league,” Flint said. “He’s a little bit more comfortable out there, and I think that’s made him a little better.”
With 11 points in Sunday evening’s contest, Williams has averaged 11 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his last three games. Over that stretch, the freshman has turned into one of the most productive big men in the CAA.
Hofstra’s big men are no slouches, either. Junior forward Moussa Kone, sophomore forward Jordan Allen and senior forward Stephen Nwaukoni average a combined 19.7 points and 18.4 rebounds per game, an imposing low-post presence.
The last time the Dragons and Pride faced off — Jan. 29 for a 77-74 Drexel victory — Flint felt as if his big men were pushed around on the paint; to a man who builds his teams around mental and physical toughness, this was unacceptable. Sunday evening, Flint was far happier with his team’s performance.
“They play hard,” Flint said of Hofstra’s forwards. “I wouldn’t say they’re the most skilled dudes in the world, but I think they play extremely hard. They run up your back. You’d better be ready for a physical game. Those guys come at you.
“I thought they did that a little to us [at Hofstra], so we talked about that a lot. Those guys really came at us and got some plays I didn’t really think they should have got up there. We did a better job against those guys today.”
Williams and Ruffin scored 10 of the Dragons’ first 13 points Sunday, piloting the team to a 13-11 lead 6:32 into the first half.
The early inside scoring opened opportunities for Drexel’s guards, namely Massenat, and Flint said he was extremely pleased with the way his forwards created chances for the whole team.
“The way they were playing us, I thought some of the opportunities we missed in the first game were actually getting some easy buckets inside,” Flint said about their improvements. “And honestly that opened it up for Frantz, the way they were playing. Because now we kept throwing it to [the big guys], got some easy baskets underneath, not just relying on guys coming off screens trying to shoot and drive.”
The progressing offensive transformation has shown marked results in the box score and the win column. The lack of offensive balance, however, is the culprit behind recent Drexel losses.
All you need is a little math.
In the six games preceding Sunday’s victory, the Dragons went 3-3. In the three losses, Dartaye Ruffin and Rodney Williams combined for 16 percent of the team’s points, whereas in the three wins, the two combined for exactly 20 percent of the team’s points.
A four percent disparity doesn’t seem to make much difference on the surface. However, when you break down those six games, the Dragons averaged 66.8 points per game in that stretch. Four percent of 66.8 points per game is 2.67 points, or about three per game.
The Dragons lost those games by two points, two points and one point. Every point makes a difference.
When Drexel can statistically generate more offense by working the ball inside, the team has to make certain to find Williams and Ruffin inside early and often, as they have of late. After all of the offensive development showcased Sunday night, the Dragons suffered another woeful offensive performance Feb. 19 in a 63-61 overtime loss to James Madison University.
The team shot 30.4 percent from the field on the whole, with Massenat and Fouch going a combined 7-32 from the field. The Dragons hit only their last 3-pointer on 12 attempts as the overtime buzzer sounded, the game already out of reach.
A fatal flaw in the Dragons’ recent attempts to expand the offensive breadth was exposed in Wednesday’s loss. When the team’s outside shooters — Massenat, Fouch, and sophomore guard Tavon Allen — aren’t clicking, the inside-out game ceases to pose a threat to opposing defenses.
When Fouch and Massenat went a combined 1-13 in the first 20 minutes at the Convocation Center, James Madison realized they could key on the lanes and the paint in order to stop Drexel’s offense.
The Dragons’ big men, Ruffin, Williams, and freshman forward Mohamed Bah, scored 11 points on six shot attempts in the first half, when the Dukes were still worried about the long ball. In the second half they managed only seven points on four shot attempts.
Sunday’s victory highlighted what Drexel’s offense can do when its best players are clicking. Wednesday’s loss, however, reiterated what happens when they are not. The team resumes play Sunday, Feb. 23, when the Dragons travel to rival University of Delaware (20-8, 12-1 CAA) for a 3 p.m. game.