March 10, 2017 by Nick Maloney
The Drexel University men’s basketball team ended its season with a first round defeat March 3 in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Entering as the tournament’s last seed, the Dragons were unable to channel last year’s postseason momentum, where they were able to pull off an upset over Elon University. They emerged from an almost unwatchable first half of play with an eight point lead. Icelandic native freshman Kari Jonsson flashed his shooting stroke, scoring 11 including a perfect six for six from the foul line.
This would not last for long. Similar to the two teams’ senior day matchup at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, the second half adjustments made by James Madison University, namely the reliance on a full court pressure to stifle their opponent’s offense, proved to be just too much for Zach Spiker’s young group. The difference in this one, however, was that the adjustments had to be made by JMU assistant Mike Deane after a bizarre first half exchange with Head Coach Louis Rowe resulted in successive technicals and an ejection.
But in the second half, whether ignited by their coach’s fiery exit or inspired by looking their season’s mortality in the eyes, James Madison delivered an absolutely devastating blow early in the half. A 21-2 run turned a halftime deficit into a commanding lead, with the combination of JMU’s pressure and shotmaking proving to be just too much for the once effective Drexel defense.
On the other side, the same story persisted for the Dragons, stagnant offense and missed shots. Junior Sammy Mojica especially struggled in the second, missing a handful of good looks from beyond the arc that would have stemmed the Dukes’ lead. While he led the team with 15 points, it took him 21 shots to do so.
It was an unfortunate end to a storied career for senior Rodney Williams. The recent third team All-CAA nominee fouled out before the eight minute media timeout, with a paltry stat line of six points and seven boards. In the end, the Dragons just lacked the firepower to make the necessary run to close the gap and come back.
And so, when the final buzzer sounded late Friday evening, the 70-80 defeat meant the end of another season for Drexel men’s basketball, and brought the opportunity to do some reflecting on the season past and the program’s future.
Going into this season, even the most optimistic of fans would have had to concede that there would be growing pains for a young team and a new coach. The generous might even say that he was given a difficult hand to walk into, with two starting guards transferring away last year in Rashann London and the very promising Terrell Allen. They lost their top scorer in Tavon Allen to graduation last year as well. Spiker has still yet to show the recruiting prowess that helped him turn around a historically troubled United States Military Academy program.
So what should our expectations for next year be, then? Kurk Lee has certainly proven himself to be a compelling playmaker on the floor. He, along with transfers Tramaine Isabell (University of Missouri) and Troy Harper (Campbell University) should make for one of the more exciting backcourts in the CAA. The 6-foot-8-inch incoming freshman swingman Jarvis Doles hopes to be the next in the Baltimore Pipeline (see Kurk and Damion Lee) to make an impact on the program. Returning seniors Miles Overton, Austin Williams and Sammy Mojica should provide some much needed leadership for yet another underclassman-laden roster. Spiker may yet have some potential recruits or graduate transfers up his sleeve.
But in the end, competitive sports is a results-driven industry, and while it seems as if the gears may be in motion for the basketball program to once again compete in the CAA, the fact remains that the team’s final record was only three games better than that of last season. At 9-23, that record remains simply unacceptable. Let’s hope that things begin to change soon.