In the minutes after the Drexel University men’s basketball team’s 86-58 loss to Hofstra University Jan. 21, head coach James “Bruiser” Flint didn’t want to see the stat sheet. He didn’t care; the numbers didn’t matter.
His team came out flat, and he was vocally disappointed.
“The stat sheet doesn’t matter when you don’t play with any toughness,” Flint said. “You let the [opposing] team come out and just beat you to death to start, and you don’t respond to it, that’s what happens. You lose by 30.”
It was time for the team to get back on the bus, head back to Philadelphia and try to avoid letting a team do to them what the Pride did in Hempstead, New York.
Hofstra dominated the paint with ease, capitalizing on the injuries and inexperience of the Dragons’ forwards. Forward Malik Nichols scored 10 points and added 10 rebounds and the Pride out-scored the Dragons 50-16 in the paint on the night, abusing Drexel’s forwards from the start.
“[Hofstra] just knocked us down,” Flint explained. “They played like the older team. ‘I’m going to push you, I’m going to shove you, I’m going to grab you. You’d better hope the referees call the fouls, because if not, you’re going to be in trouble.’”
Yet, at halftime, the game that ended separated by 36 points wasn’t such an obviously one-sided bout.
The Pride delivered a series of haymakers in the early going, hitting from deep and attacking the paint, exploiting two of the Dragons’ biggest weaknesses on the defensive end.
Guard Juan’ya Green entered the halftime break with nine points on four-of-six shooting and doled out five assists, and Hofstra shot a solid 46.9 percent from the field as a team.
Yet Joe Mihalich’s offense didn’t consistently play to its strengths in the first half, which let the Dragons hang around for longer than they should have been able to. Despite hitting more than 50 percent of its two-point attempts and scoring 18 points in the paint in the first 20 minutes, Hofstra felt compelled to attempt 15 three-pointers.
Shooting 33 percent from deep, the Pride felt just comfortable enough in their range to keep hoisting up deep shots even as their inside game proved to be a near-lock.
Drexel forward Tyshawn Myles was unable to build off his Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week-earning performance against the University of Delaware; the freshman finished without a point, snaring seven rebounds in just 17 minutes.
Eleven first-half points from Lee kept the Dragons within eight points heading into the break, down 39-31 after a put-back from freshman guard Sammy Mojica Jr. fell at the buzzer.
Lee finished with 27 points on 13 field goal attempts, another high-scoring performance from the conference’s highest-scoring player.
But Bernardi hit Hofstra’s first three-point attempt of the second half, Ameen Tanksley sunk in a layup on the following possession and the Pride suddenly led by a sturdy 13 points.
“We got back in the game at the end of the first half, but we started the second half with the same thing,” Flint said. “We drive to the basket, they bang us a little bit, we miss and then we give up a three. That was it. That was the game right there.”
Bernardi finished the night with a team-high with 23 points on eight-of-12 shooting, burying six of 10 attempts from three-point range.
Flint had told his players how to defend Bernardi during the week, he explained, but the teaching apparently went directly in the trash bin when the team arrived in New York.
“Brian Bernardi is a standstill three-point shooter,” Flint explained. “Why do you keep leaving him? Why do you keep going after guys who don’t shoot the ball? It was like we never even practiced. We gave the guy 23 points.”
Bernardi and the Pride outscored the Dragons by 10 points in the first 4:35 of the second half; from there Hofstra raced away from the Dragons in the second half of the contest, handing Drexel its fifth conference loss of the year.
Drexel (4-14, 2-5) returns to action Saturday, Jan. 24, when the College of Charleston pays a visit to University City at noon.
When his team takes the floor next, Flint said he’s just looking for a semblance of toughness. He knows his team isn’t one of the elite in the CAA, and the injuries haven’t helped his squad this year.
But their performance against Hofstra, he said, was something else entirely.
“We haven’t seen everybody in the league, but these teams are who they are. I’ll say it again — I don’t care. Even with having guys out, if you come to play, you can play with anybody in this league. You’ve got to come to play, though. You’ve got to come with a certain mentality.
“I thought we were a little afraid tonight.”