The DAC pack made a special sign for the Dragon’s home opener Nov. 17 against Saint Joseph’s University.
On it, seven words summed up the atmosphere surrounding the game: “New DAC, New Damion, same Drexel Pride.”
The DAC pack was jumping, Damion Lee was back at home for the first time in 20 months and the stage was set for a battle.
The DAC Pack
There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. Last season, home games for the Dragons had notably less energy and had maybe half of the showing that this game drew.
The entire first half, the DAC was booming with energy, so much so that both teams fed off of it.
It seemed to particularly influence the Drexel offense, as they had a few riotous dunks including a ridiculous jam over a defender by Rodney Williams in the first half.
The return of Damion
From the tip, “new Damion” looked very much like pre-ACL tear Damion. He looked virtually unstoppable off of the dribble and commanded the ball (and double teams) on offense.
At one point in the first half, Lee hit a fairly contested three pointer and turned to the DAC pack and quickly raised his arms, and the crowd lost their minds.
He hit five of his first 10 shots before going fairly cold in the second half, finishing the game 6-18 from the field with 23 points. The percentage associated with a 6-18 performance might not look good on paper, but it’s underselling what was one of the best performances by a Dragon in the DAC in recent history.
Throughout the second half, Damion kept the team in it with his offense even though he was the only one able to create his own shot and finish it all night. He was double teamed all night and worked through it to the tune of 13 second half points.
He ended his night taking a lengthy three pointer that fell short of the rim with two seconds remaining, sealing the victory for the Hawks, 52-49.
Damion felt great being back at home and about his performance, but it was missing the most important thing.
“It was cool playing at home being that I haven’t played there in 20 months. The points don’t really matter because we didn’t win. It’s cool to score the ball and I know that’s my job on this team, I have to come ready every night and be an aggressive player and look to score the ball for us to win, that’s not the issue. The issue is that we didn’t win.”
Can’t take the heat?
St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli cued up an all-game full court pressure on the Dragons, and it seemed to give them fits at times.
Specifically, it was tough for freshman guard Rashann London to handle, as he’s a bit too small to fight through double teams, and it caused him to turn the ball over two times in the first half. In the second half, he seemed to settle in and St. Joe’s seemed to get a bit more tired and backed off on the press, and he was able to score six points with zero turnovers.
Coach James “Bruiser” Flint thought Rashann played well in the game compared to the opener at Colorado and that’s how he wants him to play this year.
“I’m not worried about him scoring baskets, I need him to not turn it over and play defense, that’s his job. He’s been fine, I need him to be more intense on [defense].”
Martelli’s defense hedged on screens very far, coming out almost to half court on some screens to cut off the ball handler. The purpose of this motion is to disrupt screens taking place at the three-point line and force the player using the screen to go back the way they came from.
It worked like a charm. Countless Damion Lee screens were completely cut down by the pressure and it completely disrupted the Dragons’ ability to move the ball at points in the game.
More than anything in the game, close misses cost the Dragons.
Most notably, sophomore big man Rodney Williams had a rough night down low for the Dragons. He has all of the moves of an impact big, but just cannot make shots from close range. He went 3-9 on the game for six points, but if he had been able to make even half of his close shots, as he will surely be expected to do as his Dragons career goes on, he could have made a real difference in the game.
Flint noted the close misses specifically as a reason for the loss.
“We have to finish plays. We can’t keep going into games and missing every lay-up. We’re getting them, that’s the crazy thing. We’re getting great looks and guys have to be stronger.”
The Dragons continue their pre-conference play slate against the University of Miami in the Charleston Classic Nov. 20.
The Hurricanes are 2-0 coming off of a huge win against the University of Florida Gators and will surely pose a challenge to the young Dragons and great opportunity to turn things around.