Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
A career afternoon from Damion Lee wasn’t enough for Drexel, who struggled with Rider’s full-court press in a 75-66 loss on Saturday afternoon.
Lee had 28 points, including 11 straight for the Dragons down the stretch, but after tying the game at 60 with 3:10 to play the Broncs went on a 11-2 run to put the game away.
The Dragons missed their final five shots of the game while the Broncs went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line to help seal the win.
Drexel (2-5) lost for the second time in as many games on their home court this season, and the preseason CAA favorites’ hopes for any at-large bid is in tatters just seven games into the season. The Dragons are without senior guard Chris Fouch, out for the season with a fractured ankle he suffered against Penn back in November.
After the home team led for the entire opening 20 minutes, Rider (5-4) took their first lead of the game just after halftime when Derrick Stewart’s layup made it 32-31 in favor of the visiting Broncs. Drexel regained the lead quickly after, and it wasn’t until under 10 minutes remained in the game that back-to-back 3-pointers by Zedric Sadler and Anthony Myles put Rider up 51-46. Myles’ trey closed out a 14-0 run by the Broncs.
“That’s the way we’ve played all year,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said afterwards. “We have periods in the game where we’re just absolutely awful, it becomes a closer game than it should be, and it comes back to bite us in the butt…we threw the ball to ‘em.”
“We’re just making too many mistakes we shouldn’t be making, and we’re crushing ourselves,” he added.
The full-court pressure of Rider played a large part in Drexel’s 16 turnovers, forcing the Dragons into numerous over-and-back violations and at least one 10-second violation in addition to several errant passes.
“We didn’t force many turnovers early on with the press,” Rider coach Kevin Baggett said. “But as the game went on we were able to force some turnovers and get them out of rhythm.”
Stewart, a junior forward who graduated from Neumann-Goretti in 2010 alongside La Salle’s Tyreek Duren and Villanova’s Tony Chennault, had 21 points and seven rebounds to pace Rider. Jonathon Thompson (14 points) and Nurideen Lindsey (12 points) were the other double-digit scorers for the Broncs.
Lindsey hit a 3-pointer to give his team its biggest lead at 58-51 with 6:20 to play, but the Dragons weren’t done yet. Lee answered with a trey of his own, and after a Lindsey layup the foul situation started to swing in Drexel’s favor. A foul on Stewart put the home team in the bonus with six minutes to play and Lee made Rider pay, sinking a pair from the line for Drexel to tie the game at 60 with four minutes to play.
Drexel senior guard Derrick Thomas had his second double-digit effort of the season, bouncing back from a scoreless effort against Rice on Sunday to all but one of his four 3-point attempts in an 11-point performance for the defensive specialist. Frantz Massenat had 10 points and four assists but committed six turnovers and missed all three of his 3-point attempts.
“As much as we got guys who were here last year, responsibilities are different,” Flint said about a team that lost only senior Samme Givens from last year’s 29-win squad. “Although you were here last year, you’re not in the same position, your responsibility has changed. So you need to understand what we need from you and what you’re responsible for.”
Interior play continues to be an issue for the Dragons. Daryl McCoy had just three points and six rebounds in 19 minutes after spending most of the first half on the bench due to foul trouble; Dartaye Ruffin fouled out after 28 minutes in which he only scored three points but pulled in nine rebounds.
“Yeah, it concerns me,” Flint said. “Because I think we can, you just gotta be willing. It is what it is, it’s one of those things we have to improve on.
“We got in a little foul trouble today but still, though, we had opportunities to score around the basket. Guys gotta be ready to score around the basket.”
Drexel’s next game is on Saturday, when they travel to Princeton to take on the Tigers at 2 p.m.