Drexel battles Illinois St. in home opener

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Tom Zamonski (@tomzamonski)

Following a tough season-opening overtime loss to Kent St, the Drexel Dragons will try to bounce back at home when the host Illinois St. tomorrow night.

Drexel coach Bruiser Flint believed part of the team’s opening loss was a lack of effort at times. This has been something he has been stressing to his team during practices.

Flint has been pushing his team at practice (Photo: Josh Verlin)

“Some serious effort drills,” he said. “I think we got beat to every loose ball and every loose rebound. We were a little bit effortless in the game. I don’t think we did ourselves any services in terms of our attention to details. So our focus was a big deal in that game.”

If the Dragon’s continue their mental lapses then tomorrow’s game could be a very tough matchup. Illinois St. (1-0, 0-0 MVC) is coming off an impressive 100-72 win over UC-Santa Barbara. Flint credited the Redbirds’ victory with a terrific team effort and strong shooting.

“They are really well rounded. They shoot the ball,” Flint said. “It’s a good team. It’s a really good team. I am very impressed with their personnel and what they can do.”

Leading the way for Illinois St. is senior forward Jackie Carmichael. Last season he averaged 13.9 points and 9.7 rebounds. In the Redbirds’ opening game, Carmichael did not disappoint. He put up 27 points on 65 percent (13-of-20) shooting. He also collected 10 rebounds.

Flint is impressed by Carmichael, and is looking forward to be playing against such a talented opponent.

“He is a really good player. People say he’s got the chance to have pro potential. So if that can’t get you excited about playing then I don’t know what can,” he said said.

Flint said that despite Carmichael’s talent, Illinois St. is not a one dimensional team.

“They are very fast. Shoot a lot of threes. They really attack you in transition. A lot of ball screens. And at times they have a guy (Carmichael) that can bail them out by throwing to the guy in the middle and score baskets. But they are very well rounded.”

Flint said that two other players the Dragon’s will keep an eye on will be senior guard Tyler Brown and junior forward Jon Ekey.

“Brown is a good player,” Flint said, “Ekey is a good forward. I am very impressed with their personnel and what they can do.”

Brown netted 22 points in the opener and averaged 13.7 points last year. Ekey scored 11 and grabbed three rebounds in the first game. Last year he averaged 9.0 points and 4.9 boards per game.

Flint hopes that his team can gain an advantage on the boards. He said that after watching tape on the Redbirds from last season that this could be an area of the game the Dragon’s could win.

“I don’t think they rebounded well on some plays, in watching a few games from last year,” he said. “One of the things we like to do is rebound the ball and believe that is something that we might be able to exploit.”

If the Dragon’s can limit the amount of rebounds Carmichael collects, it would be a huge advantage for Drexel. Last season Carmichael was responsible for collecting 28.8 percent of the Red Birds’ defensive rebounds. This was the fifth highest of all players in the country last season. Illinois St. allowed teams to get 27.6 percent of offensive rebound opportunities, this ranked 293rd in the nation.

There is a new man in charge for Illinois St., Dan Muller, and Flint expects to see something a bit different this year.

“This is a new coach,” he said. “In watching the game from this year they did some things they didn’t do last year. Since it is a new coach, they are going to change some things.”

Muller is a former player for the Redbirds and became the 19th head coach in the history of the program. Before coaching at Illinois St. he was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt.

The Drexel faithful will be out in full force tomorrow as it is the home-opener. Flint is hoping that his team can use that to the Dragon’s advantage. “In the last few years we have had some wonderful crowds. It’s our opening game so hopefully we have another one and they can give us some energy in the game,” Flint said.

One player that could benefit from being back at home is Frantz Massenat. Drexel’s star player is coming off a disappointing opening game in which he scored six points on and committed five turnovers. Being at home should make Massenat more comfortable and relaxed.

Frantz Massenat (right) hopes to shake off a rocky start. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

“He’s got to be focused and ready,” Flint said. “He has to understand also that people are looking at him now, he is under the microscope. As I always tell him, you are top of the scouting report. He has to realize that. Guys are going to be ready to play against him and coaches are going to game plan against him.”

Flint said that it is also important to remember that it was only one game and there is no reason to have concern yet.

“I mean it was only the first game of the year and you don’t want to be hitting the panic button. I think people forget that we started off 2-4 last year,” he added. “The only thing that disturbs me was that we played almost the same exact game that we played against Norfolk St. last year. When the game got tight we fell apart, so you know we didn’t come ready.”

Flint explained the way this game turns out depends on the player’s attitude: “We will see if they let it linger on or see if the guys can get it back together,” he said.

Chris Fouch (right) will try to build on a strong opener (Photo: Josh Verlin)

One of the only bright spots for the Dragon’s in their season opener was junior guard Chris Fouch. He scored 24 points and was 6-12 on 3-pointers.

“He was actually the only person that scored the ball for us,” Flint said. “So that was one of the reasons why I stayed with him for a long period of time.”

Although Fouch had the hot hand last game and played 33 minutes, Flint said that he was not sure if Fouch will see as much minutes in this game.

“With this group sometimes he will be out there a lot,” he admitted. “But if he’s got it going then we have to keep him out there.”

Tip off for Drexel and Illinois St. is set for 7:00 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center tomorrow night.

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