Drexel came to Kaplan Arena Monday and showed why it was the preseason CAA favorite, easily dispatching William and Mary 64-48.
The Tribe (4-17, 2-7 CAA) was once again led by freshman guard Marcus Thornton, who scored 18 points on 7 of 18 shooting from the field. Thornton went just 2 for 8 from beyond the arc though, while overall the College shot a dismal 18.2 percent from long range.
Sophomore forward Tim Rusthoven continued his solid play in the paint, netting 12 points on 6 for 9 shooting for his third straight game in double figures. But the difference was Drexel’s size, as the Tribe eventually found itself physically overwhelmed by a Drexel team that looks to impose its will on opponents with a grinding, physical style of play.
“We left every ounce of our heart on the floor tonight,” head coach Tony Shaver said, “but physically they just wore us out.”
Drexel came into the game leading the CAA in scoring defense, surrendering only 55 points per game and allowing its opponents to shoot just 42 percent. Both averages will improve after Monday night, as the Tribe managed an ice-cold 38 percent on just 19 of 53 from the field. While Shaver was quick to credit Drexel’s defense, he also pointed to missed opportunities as playing a major role in the loss.
“We missed a lot of open shots; we’ve got to make those shots against a team like this,” he said.
Early on, it looked as though the College, playing its third game in five days, would give the Dragons all they could handle. The Tribe sought to assert a low-post presence to start the game, resulting in two immediate fouls on Drexel’s 6 foot, 9 inch, 280 pound Daryl McCoy. Rusthoven took advantage moments later, exciting the crowd with a nice one-handed slam after rolling off of a pick.
An energized Thornton then sliced to the basket for two more of his nine first-half points. The Tribe had all the momentum at that point, and it wasn’t clear if Drexel would have an answer for Thornton’s athleticism, but as the half wound down, the College turned it over on consecutive possessions. Then, with just four seconds left, the Dragons capitalized, as guard Frantz Massenat caught a pass at halfcourt and then took two dribbles before burying a contested 25-footer at the buzzer.
With that, Drexel had a nine-point lead to start the second half, and the Dragons never looked back, going on a decisive 16-5 run to open up a 17-point lead with 12 minutes remaining. Although Thornton was a handful on the perimeter throughout the game, he still attributed the letdown to poor offensive execution.
“We had a couple lapses on offense and had miscommunication and maybe took a couple bad shots” he said.
An efficient Drexel squad shot the ball consistently well, finishing an even 50 percent from the field. But ultimately it was the emergence of Dragon forward Dartaye Ruffin — who came in averaging just five points a game, but scored 18 on the night, to go with five rebounds and three blocks — that was a difference-maker.
The game included an interesting subplot as well, as both teams feature CAA freshman-of-the-year candidates. Drexel’s Damion Lee, a 6’6” wing who posed major match-up problems for the Tribe, finished with 17 points and six rebounds, just a point shy of the flashier Thornton, his freshman counterpart.
Lee downplayed the meeting of two of the CAA’s premier freshmen.
“Coming in to the game, the coaches asked who’s better,” he said. “But I just wanted to do what I had to do for our team to get a win.”
The College shot just seven free throws in the game, a somewhat surprising number against a Drexel team that doesn’t shy from contact. The Tribe’s inability to draw fouls fit right in to Drexel’s game plan.
“We thought if we played defense without fouling we’d be okay,” Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint said. “We didn’t get called for bumps … and that’s why [the College] only shot seven foul shots.”
The College will take a couple of days to regroup before traveling to Harrisonburg Thursday to face James Madison.