When Drexel stepped on the Richmond Coliseum court to face Old Dominion right before tipoff of the first CAA Semifinal, the Drexel Band played the theme from "Rocky". Though they were the #1 seed in the CAA Tournament, Drexel was truly David. Outside of their DACPack faithful, several fans behind their bench and a few fans left from the other former America East schools that were gone by Saturday night, the Dragons were clearly in the minority. Richmond Coliseum was mostly a sea of fans from the three Virginia schools that made up the other three semifinalists.
Standing in the Dragons' way were the Monarchs, a team that had won the CAA championship the last two seasons. Blaine Taylor and several of his veteran players Kent Bazemore and Chris Cooper were eager to end the Dragons' 18 game winning streak. ODU had scored 88 points in their quarterfinal win over Delaware and barely lost at home by a point to Drexel at the end of the regular season.
One of the most wonderful things about the CAA Tournament is all the great pep bands. Not only did Drexel shine with "Rocky" but ODU's band had a great version of Aha's "Take on Me". However, the musical highlight of the day was hearing Chris "VCUPav" Crowley clear as day, belting out the national anthem in a beautiful, operatic voice. Now I know where he got the horns he wears; it must have been a production at the New York Metropolitan Opera House.
When you have two of the better defensive teams in the CAA playing each other, chances are you're going to get a low scoring, physical slugfest. Sure enough, neither team could score a basket in the first two and half minutes of the game. It had all the makings of a "First to fifty wins" game, just like Drexel's win over UNCW the day before.
The Dragons broke through the scoreless drought with a 9-0 run. The Monarchs missed on their first six shot attempts as the shots that fell against the Blue Hens the day before were now hitting off the rims with clanks and thuds. Two Chris Fouch three pointers extended Drexel's lead to 15-3.
ODU responded with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 15-10 with a little less than seven minutes left in the half. But the Monarchs missed their last four shots in the half, all three point attempts. The Dragons would go into halftime up ten, 27-17.
Drexel only shot thirty three percent in the first half. But they held ODU to 27 percent from the field, including two of nine from beyond the arc. Bazemore, who lit up Delaware the day before for 15 first half points, was held to four points, shooting one of six from the field.
Any hope that the Monarchs' fans had for a comeback quickly evaporated in the first four minutes of the second half. The Dragons outscored the Monarchs 14-8 to build their lead to sixteen, 41-25. During this span, Frantz Massenat, Drexel's star sophomore point guard, buried a 3-pointer and then later would hit three free throws after being fouled by Bazemore. In that span of four minutes, Bazemore committed two turnovers and picked up three quick fouls, as he seemed completely thrown off by Massenat on both sides of the court.
ODU never really threatened again, though they cut the lead in half, 46-38, with Cooper scoring on a three point play. But in the span of ninety seconds, Drexel had the lead back up to fifteen, 55-40, after Damion Lee hit his own three point play. From there, the Monarchs never got closer than ten points. The Dragons, the best three point defensive team in the CAA held the Monarchs to one of nine shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.
Drexel extended the lead to as much as 19 before settling for a very convincing 68-51 win over ODU in a front of a very hostile crowd. How convincing was it? The team that had played #1 Kentucky tough before losing by ten and the team that battled #5 Missouri at home before losing by seven had been drubbed by 17 points. It was the largest margin of loss for the Monarchs this season.
The Dragons had four scorers in double figures as Massenat had 20 points, Lee added 17, Fouch had 16 points and Givens had 12 points to go with 12 rebounds. Drexel shot 48 percent from the field in the second half and 13 of 16 from the line. Massenat made nine of ten free throws from the line.
Bazemore and Cooper were the only ODU players in double figures, as each scored 12 points. Bazemore was six of twenty from the field, including missing all five of his 3-point attempts. Drexel Head Coach Bruiser Flint noted in his post game news conference that his players "stepped out a lot harder" on Bazemore in this game than they did in the regular season finale. In that regular season finale, Bazemore had scored 37 points.
In his post game news conference, Taylor was thoroughly convinced that Drexel was a NCAA Tournament team. He mentioned how his team played tough against Kentucky and Missouri. Then Taylor stated that "I really think for instance a Drexel-Missouri matchup would be a very entertaining game and I give Drexel every opportunity to have success in that game."
I had seen both the ODU-Kentucky and ODU-Missouri games on television. Drexel's performance against Old Dominion was as good or even better than Kentucky's and Missouri's performances. I hadn't seen a Blaine Taylor team dominated like that in a very long time. The Dragons gave the Monarchs their worst loss in the CAA tournament since 2004 (VCU also defeated them in the CAA Semifinals by 17 points). Taylor was right. Drexel deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for Taylor and Drexel, a week later the NCAA Committee wrongly thought otherwise.
DREXEL 68, OLD DOMINION 51 03/04/2012
OLD DOMINION 20-13 (13-5) -- D. Hill 2-5 1-2 6; K. Bazemore 6-20 0-3 12; C. Cooper 5-9 2-2 12; N. Wright 2-8 2-4 7; M. De Lancey 1-4 0-1 2; D. Batten 2-7 2-2 7; R. Ross 0-1 1-2 1; B. Key 1-3 0-0 2; A. Larsen 0-0 0-0 0; J. Pimentel 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 19-57 10-18 51. DREXEL 27-5 (16-2) -- C. Fouch 5-15 2-2 16; F. Massenat 5-15 9-10 20; D. Lee 5-8 4-5 17; S. Givens 6-12 0-0 12; D. McCoy 1-4 1-1 3; D. Ruffin 0-1 0-2 0; A. Younger 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-55 16-20 68.
Three-point goals: ODU 3-18 (K. Bazemore 0-5; M. De Lancey 0-1; N. Wright 1-4; D. Hill 1-3; D. Batten 1-4; B. Key 0-1), DREX 8-23 (C. Fouch 4-12; F. Massenat 1-7; D. Lee 3-4); Rebounds: ODU 31 (C. Cooper 10), DREX 37 (S. Givens 12); Assists: ODU 5 (K. Bazemore 3), DREX 10 (F. Massenat 4); Total Fouls -- ODU 20, DREX 17; Fouled Out: ODU-K. Bazemore; DREX-None.