Tom Zamonski (@tomzamonski)
Drexel entered half time with the lead and was determined to not let this game end up like their season-opener. Unfortunately for the home team, the result was all too familiar.
The Dragons coughed up a six point advantage at half and a 71-63 lead with 5:59 remaining as Illinois St. was able to come back and win 86-84 in overtime.
“Those guys made big plays when they needed them and we didn’t,” Drexel Head Coach Bruiser Flint said. “That’s what has happened to us the first two games of the year. We haven’t been able to make the play when we needed one.”
The Redbirds’ comeback was orchestrated by a strong performance by Jackie Carmichael. Following a surprise move by Illinois St.’s Dan Muller, Carmichael was benched to start the game and was replaced by Jordan Threloff. Muller’s decision to not start Carmichael was because he was late to a team meeting.
Threloff was later replaced by Carmichael less than two minutes into the game as he committed two fouls early. While only playing nine minutes in the first half, Carmichael proved why he is the most dangerous player on his team scoring 11 points in the opening 20 minutes. Carmichael would finish with a game high 21 points in just 29 minutes.
The Dragons originally had Daryl McCoy defending Carmichael but foul trouble led him to only 15 minutes of play.
“We can’t have Daryl on the bench,” Flint explained. “He can’t play 15 minutes a game, he pressured us.”
Bruiser Flint was forced to place Dartaye Ruffin and Kazembe Abif on Carmichael.
“I thought he was alright,” Flint said of Ruffin’s defensive play against Carmichael. “We got some really bad (fouls) in a sloppy game by just sticking our hands in on him. But I don’t think our guys did a bad job on him.”
Ruffin led the game with 10 rebounds. In an area that Flint thought his team would have an advantage, the Dragons grabbed eight more boards (42-38) than Illinois St.
Flint was impressed with Abif but felt that the sophomore was not experienced enough to go against such a talented player in Carmichael. Abif set career highs in points (10), minutes (36), field goals (5), and field goal attempts (10).
“It will be great experience for him down the road but he shouldn’t be in there right now to be honest with you,” Flint said.
Leading the way for Drexel was Frantz Massenat, who had a strong effort for the Dragons. He ended the first half with 10 points without even attempting a field goal as he made all of his points from the free-throw line. Massenat finished the game with a team-high 18 points and nine assists.
The Dragons finished the game shooting 46.2 percent from the field while the Redbirds shot 49.2 percent.
In a tightly contested matchup, Damion Lee made a jumper to give Drexel an eight-point lead with six minutes to go to give the Dragons their biggest lead of the game.
Then it went downhill for the Dragons when McCoy fouled out with more than five minutes remaining.
A glimmer of hope flashed for the Dragons with 35.2 seconds when Derrick Thomas gave Drexel the lead 75-73 on a reverse layup on an assist from Massenat.
“They were in zone. It was a key play. All he did was cut baseline and I saw him. He finished it off,” Massenat explained. “We went up two and all we needed was a stop.”
The Dragons were able to get that stop when Tyler Brown took a poor shot and Kazembe gathered the rebound. The Redbirds were then forced to foul. Thomas would draw the foul and go to the line with 11.3 seconds remaining with a chance to build the Drexel lead to as many as four.
Thomas was unable to connect on the front end of a 1-and-1 at the line and the Redbirds gathered the rebound and called a timeout. Free throws were certainly one area that cost the Dragons their first win.
“We could have hit a free throw or two that could have put the game away and made it tougher on them,” Massenat said.
After making 12-of-13 (92.3 percent) of their free throws in the first half, the Dragons finished the game 17-of-23 (73.9 percent) from the charity line.
With two seconds left in regulation, Carmichael was able to drive to the line and draw a foul on Ruffin. He went on to bury both and sent the game to overtime.
With 2:50 left in overtime, Abif drove into the lane then made a layup while being fouled on the play. He would miss the free throw but still had the Dragons up 79-76. This would be the final time Drexel would take the lead.
The closest Drexel could make it was 85-84 with 4.6 seconds remaining following a deep three from Chris Fouch.
Tyler Hill was then fouled and split a pair of free throws. Following the second free throw, the Dragons collected the rebound with 2.6 seconds remaining and gave Drexel a slim chance to extend the game.
Massenat launched a long three at the buzzer but was unable to covert and the Dragons lost 86-84.
Despite the loss, Flint and Massenat saw an improvement from the Dragon’s season-opener.
“Our effort was a lot better I will say that,” Flint said. Last game if we would have had this type of effort then we would have been fine. If we would have played like we did on Friday against this team we would have been crushed.”
“We improved from last game,” Massenat added. “But like last game we just didn’t make the little plays. We just need to get it together.”
Next up on Drexel is city rival Penn on Saturday. The Dragons make the short trip to the Palestra when tipoff begins at 4:00.
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins was in attendance for the game. Collins was there supporting his former college team Illinois St.