Drexel overcomes first half woes, beats Princeton 64-57

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Derrick Thomas drives to the hoop Saturday in Drexel’s 64-57 over Princeton (Photo: Anson Marsh)

Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)

The Drexel Dragons overcame a faulty first half to come back and beat Princeton 64-57. Damion Lee led the charge for the Dragons, scoring 21 points and adding 5 rebounds on Saturday afternoon.

Lee hit a shot from beyond the arc with just over two minutes remaining to put the Dragons back ahead 60-57. A pair of Daryl McCoy free throws with under 20 seconds remaining sealed the deal for Drexel.

“I think this is a big game for us, just looking at our record,” Lee said. “This could be our turning point. Princeton isn’t a bad team. It is a tough road game. It is good to come in here and get this win.”

The Dragons (3-6) struggled in the first half in all aspects of the game, and trailed 32-25 at the break. They shot just 40 percent (10-for-25) from the field, including just 2-for-7 from beyond the arc. Drexel struggled from the foul line as well, making just three of their eight attempts.

Drexel was much more efficient shooting the ball to start the second half. They made their first six shots after halftime, to cut into the Princeton lead early in the second half. They ended the game shooting 50 percent (22-for-44) from the field, which was bolstered by their 12-for-19 (63.2 percent) shooting in the second half.

“I thought we executed well late in the game,” Bruiser Flint said. “I think we got some shots that we wanted to get. Then we executed on defense. We kept them to one shot. They missed it, we got it, we rebounded it. I thought we did a good job of executing. We got some good lay-ups, and Dam made a big three. I thought we executed offensively at the end of the game.”

To compound an poor offensive showing in the first 20 minutes, the Drexel defense was not up to their usual standards. On multiple occasions in the first half, the Dragons would play solid defense for 25 seconds, and then let up an easy basket very late in the shot clock.

Princeton (3-5) shot just over 57 percent (15-for-26) from the floor in the first half, led by Ian Hummer who had 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Hummer cooled down in the second half, but still managed to score 19 points on the day. The drop of production was much due to the defense of Derrick Thomas.

“Not only did he stop him from really posting up, I thought one of the big things was he didn’t let him get any rebounds, because Hummer is a little bigger than him,” Flint said of Thomas’s defense in the second half. “He took up his space, he was physical with him, he got up front like we told him, and he did a great job.”

“I just wanted to play tough with him and see where his head was,” Thomas said. “I knew he was actually calling for and I was like ‘they’re not gonna give it to you’ I was just trying to play mind games with him a little bit. Then basically be physical and invade his space.”

As Drexel heated up in the second half, Princeton took a step in the opposite direction. They managed to shoot 47.8 percent on the day, including just 35 percent in the second half. The Dragons switched their defensive strategy to throw the Tigers off.

“We trapped them and we started pressing them a little bit,” Flint said. “I knew that it had been giving them problems all year, so I just wanted to disrupt them a little bit, put them on their heels. I think that is what kept us in the game in the first half.”

“We never press. We never trap,” Flint added. “But that was something I thought that we would need to do a little bit to change the tempo of the game, and it helped us.”

Drexel out-rebounded Princeton 32-20, but the rebounding was close for much of the game. In the last 12 minutes of action, the Dragons grabbed 15 boards as opposed to the Tigers three rebounds.

“The last two games we have actually rebounded the ball,” Flint said. “I’ve got two big guys under there, so we should rebound the ball. We have been getting rebounds and losing it to teams and they have been putting it back in. Today we got it, we held them to one shot when they missed, and that was big for our defense.”

“I thought we could be a very good rebounding team, but we just didn’t have any kind of rebounding presence to finish the game, which ended up really hurting us,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We had four rebounds in the second half, it’s a big problem.”

Frantz Massenat was pretty much a non-factor in the first half, only contributing one point, one assist and one rebound. He got back on track in the second half, as he scored seven points in the half, including a 3-point shot that pulled the Dragons to within one with over eight minutes left.

Drexel took the lead for the first time since less than two minutes into the game with 6:12 remaining when Kazembe Abif converted on a layup to put the Dragons ahead 51-50. The Dragons would not trail for the remainder of the game.

Drexel has an eight day lay-off before their next contest, which will be on the road at Fairfield on December 16. Tip-off is slated for 4 p.m.

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