To say the least, it has been a disappointing season for the Drexel Dragons. It began in the offseason, when star shooting guard Damion Lee said that he would exhaust his last year of eligibility away from Philadelphia. That was followed up by a mere two player recruiting class and it wasn’t much later that the season began, only to hear a major part of the team, Major Canady, would be out for the year. In the meantime, Ahmad Fields has struggled with injuries, only playing 3 games, while starting forward Rodney Williams has been additionally hampered by an ankle injury for multiple outings.
So, at 3-18 overall and 1-9 in the conference, where does Drexel basketball go now?
There is no way they can theoretically make the NCAA tournament, without obviously, winning their own conference tournament. This would mean having to beat the likes of 16-6 James Madison or a star studded Hofstra squad. It will be no easy task.
Coming into the conference tournament that will decide their fate, Drexel will look to find some traction. Although their record may say otherwise, the Dragons have actually been in many close games, as 13 out of their 18 losses have been decided by less than 10 points. This is not a pushover Drexel team. Against a top ranked (and then undefeated) South Carolina team, Drexel trailed only by 4 at halftime. A game later, they took the Big 10’s Penn State to the wire and even led at halftime by 7, nearly pulling off the upset. It wasn’t much later that they lost to a now 16-6 Hofstra squad twice by only 8 and 6 points.
Before the team enters the tournament, it would be great for them to not only get some wins under their belt, but to get some confidence by pulling off some of these close contests. Despite the common thought that they may be playing for moral victories, this is not true. They are playing for the chance to win the conference tournament. This starts with winning the close ones.
In order to do this they not only have to finish games better, but start off better as well. In 9 of their 13 losses by less than 10 points, they have been trailing at halftime. These self dug holes have put a lot of pressure on the squad to make major strides in the second half. As a result, the team has been unable to climb their way back to wins. Drexel needs to find a guy they can get consistent production from to provide sparks at the beginning of games. Forward Rodney Williams has shown he can score and control the boards, but needs to be more forceful. Senior Tavon Allen, who is hard to stop when he is on, needs to be on more often. Sophomore Rashann London needs to show he can be relied on to score and that he won’t disappear. They will need streaky guard Sammy Mojica to show he can consistently be a three point threat.
However, these improvements do not need to happen over night. As a team who cannot make March Madness without winning the conference tournament, they need to slowly begin making the right improvements heading into the postseason. Getting some wins under their belt, especially ones in crunch time, would give them some momentum and confidence going into the CAA postseason.
And although many may believe that this is a lost season for the Dragons, that is not necessarily true. As a team that only has three seniors, many of the young guys could use this time to grow and gain experience.
Against the top three teams (Hofstra, UNC Wilmington, Towson) in the conference, the Dragons are 0-6. But, five of those six losses have been by 12 or less points. They’ve been able to play with every team in the league, but they haven’t be able to put together two consistent halves of solid basketball. If the Dragons can find a way to play a complete game, they will be a team to watch out for in the conference tournament. The season is not over. The Dragons still have a lot to play for.
Photo: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
It was pretty clear early on that Rodney Williams was a good player. The St. Christopher’s School (Virginia) set his school scoring record with 1,297 points and earned Prep League Player of the Year, two time first team All-Metro, and received looks from the likes of Virginia, VCU, Minnesota, and Temple before signing with Drexel University in November of his junior year. In addition to his high school accolades, Williams was named as a member of the CAA All-Rookie Team in 2014 as a freshman, and followed that up with a spot on the CAA All-Academic Team in 2015.
With the spotlight clearly on him this season, it was going to be an interesting experiment to see whether Williams would continue his winning ways in a situation where he is relied on heavily or choke under the pressure. By the way it’s looking now, the latter of the two probabilities is far from likely. The Dragons started off slowly with six straight losses, but Williams’ production didn’t falter, as he collected his 3rd and 4th career triple doubles against La Salle and UNC Wilmington. His mid-range shooting in conjunction with standard big man physicality give the junior a decisive edge.
Against South Carolina on December 15th, DU fans had to hold their breath as Williams exited the game with an injury after only three minutes. They were additionally frightened when he missed the following game against Penn State. This injury later defined as an ankle issue was a minor issue, as he bounced back methodically, scoring in the single digits against Penn and Iona, but tore it up at UNCW, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 offensive rebounds. The blocks are what really make him stand out though. Williams ranks 10th all time on the Dragons' blocks leaderboard, and is just four shy of passing Len Hatzenbeller’s record of 87 rejections set during the 1977-81 seasons.
The game against the Seahawks was a sure sign that the big man was back, and a huge relief to Dragon fans. Following that game, Williams dropped four straight double digit point performances and if it wasn’t for foul trouble, a likely fifth game could be strung together with the previous few.
With production at a high for Williams, it is unfortunate that the team has really struggled around him. Standout guard Tavon Allen is a complement to Williams offensively, but head coach Bruiser Flint hasn’t been able to get a group on the court that really has had the spark like teams of the past. Drexel goes into their matchup on Saturday against Towson with a lowly record of 1-4 in CAA games and a 3-10 overall record on the year. The squad is in a tough position at the moment with little momentum to help propel them through a difficult stretch of the schedule. After the Towson game, the Dragons travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia to take on top former Lower Merion High School product and 2013 PIAA 4A State Champ Yohanny Dalembert and the third ranked team in the conference, James Madison. Following the road trip, the Dragons head back to the DAC for four straight home games against teams they would have already played so far: UNCW, Towson, Hofstra, and JMU. Each opponent is unique, but shares a similar challenge of the physicality and brash style of play. It should be no surprise to see #24 up to the test, especially against Wake Forest transfer Will Adala Moto and Towson, one of the top rebounding teams in the country.
Coach Flint has commended his veteran forward for “[being] great at being patient” and in a difficult stretch for his team, a coach needs a guy to be a keystone in the locker room, and Rodney Williams has proved that he can be that guy. On the court, his determination and offensive awareness is proven. His endurance and drive will be put on the line these next few weeks though but he should be able to muscle him and his team out of this one.
Drexel takes the court next on Saturday January 16th at Towson. They take on JMU in Virginia on the 21st, then come home for a rematch with UNCW on the 23rd.
Photo: Chris Humphreys/USA Today Images
-Drexel loses to Charleston in the quarterfinal of the CAA tournament