Drexel head coach Zach Spiker at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
(Yong Kim/Philly.com Staff Photographer)
Every great team has a superhero-esque bench to support them. The bench provides the starters and coach the stability and comfort that while the best players on the team are resting, the game will not go to waste. Last year's Golden State Warriors starters were a great example of this. They had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, and Kevin Durant. Their bench consisted of Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and many more players who would no doubt start on other teams. These players were crucial in keeping their starters healthy and rested. However, in Drexel’s home opener against Bowling Green, their bench was slashed in half.
Before the start of the game, Miles Overton, Tramaine Isabell, and Alihan Demir were declared ineligible to play. Overton suffered a strained calf, Isabell failed to meet team standards, and Demir is still unable to play due to transfer rules. These absences put pressure on head coach Zach Spiker, leaving him with a meager three man bench featuring senior Tyshawn Myles, freshman Tadas Kararinas, and freshman Jarvis Doles.
In the first five minutes of the game, shooting guard Sam Green committed his first foul and was immediately subbed out for Doles. Instead of giving Green the chance to rest and avoid another foul, he was promptly subbed back into the game for Troy Harper who would go on to commit two fouls in the first half.
Doles, on the other hand, amassed three fouls in just three minutes and was quickly subbed out for Kararinas.
Kararinas didn’t play much better. While the Lithuanian native didn’t foul anyone, he only had three points and had just two rebounds despite being 6-foot-10. He also committed one of Drexel’s 9 turnovers, three of which coming from the bench. With under six minutes remaining in the half, Kararinas was subbed in for senior forward Tyshawn Myles.
Myles played for the rest of the first half and compiled a modest four points along with two rebounds of his own.
By the start of the second half, Kurk Lee had seen 20 minutes of play, Sammy Mojica had seen 18 minutes of play, and Austin Williams had seen 17 minutes of play. These players were overused due to the underwhelming amount of players on the bench and the inability of those players to give their starters a break. The bench’s ineffectivity was no doubt a contributing factor to the sudden loss of Drexel’s ten point lead in the second half.
Drexel looked and played like they were exhausted, a trait seen most clearly in their 6-foot-8 forward, Austin Williams. Williams had a tremendous first half scoring 16 points, collecting 6 rebounds, a steal, and a block all in 17 minutes of play. However his 17 minutes of play in the second half were the exact opposite. He struggled to score, dropping just two points and committed three fouls. Fellow forward and starter, Sam Green, didn’t fare well either.
Green would foul out of the game with 30 seconds remaining in the game. He scored just 5 points in 22 minutes of play, missing his only 3-three point attempt. However, the forwards weren’t the only ones who played poorly in the second half.
Philadelphia native Troy Harper, scored just 3 points in the second half, tacking on his third foul of the game 7 minutes into the half and turning the ball over just seconds later. Harper ended the game shooting 1-11 from the floor, dropping just 8 points. Some of this performance can be attributed to when late in the second half, he was subbed in for after laying on the floor, clutching his leg and wincing for a considerable amount of time.
“8 points, 26 minutes, some of those minutes weren’t healthy, but he gutted it out,” Spiker said of Harper.
Players as crucial as Harper shouldn’t be forced to ‘gut it out’ in a game that Drexel is losing in. However, when there’s no bench to replace Harper, he doesn’t get enough time to heal which could be problematic in the future. Someone who literally had no time to regroup himself was fellow guard and freshman year standout Kurk Lee.
The former CAA’s All-Rookie Team member scored just 7 points in 20 minutes of play, committed 4 turnovers and shooting 25% from the floor and was 0-3 from 3-point range.
In the second half, Kurk Lee managed to play another 20 minutes, Sammy Mojica played 20 minutes and Austin Williams played another 17 minutes. These three players got to sit a combined three times in the entire game.
If coach Spiker was able to use Tramaine Isabell at the very least, the game may have looked a lot different.
Before transferring to Drexel, Isabell played primarily off the bench for the University of Missouri. While at Missouri, Isabell racked up two 17 point performances and had 10 points or more eight times. Isabell was described by Walker Orenstein, a staff member of D1 Circuit, as a “a flash to the bucket faster than [Orenstein’s] camera shutter can keep up”.
Spiker would have had the ability to rest Lee, Mojica, or Williams more often, possibly allowing them to be rested enough to maintain their lead entering the second half, had Isabell played.
The adjustments were made however, when in their next game against Arcadia, the Dragons were much better in terms of the bench’s performance.
Tramaine Isabell, who was ineligible against Bowling Green, scored 22 points in nearly 30 minutes of play off the bench. Sam Green, who started in the Bowling Green game, scored 9 points off the bench in 20 minutes of play. The bench was responsible for nearly 35% of the points scored against Arcadia, a huge improvement from the 10 bench points (14% of the total) last game.
The Arcadia game is a testament to how effective of a team Drexel can be when they have a solid bench. Drexel’s four man bench allowed Kurk Lee to play seven less minutes than last game and Austin Williams to play six less minutes. When the starters are given the time to rest in a game, they can be more effective. For example, Troy Harper went from scoring just 8 points to scoring 17 points.
Despite their strong play, coach Spiker still wants the team to compete at a higher pace. That will come from quality bench minutes, which will provide ample time for everyone to rest, recharge, and give the opposing team different lineup looks.
“What we have to get better at is playing 40 minutes [of high level basketball] and not looking like we’re absolutely gassed and then the next thing you know, we let an offensive rebound go and then a layup,” Spiker said in the press conference. “Then we look like a team that’s not very well conditioned.”
If the bench can perform at a similar level as the Arcadia game, if not better, the starters will be able to play more productive minutes. If the team is able to do that, then the future will be bright for Drexel Basketball.
-Drexel loses to Charleston in the quarterfinal of the CAA tournament