That stretch put Drexel up, 49-42, with less than 10 minutes on the clock, and the Panthers knew they had to do something different.
"The thing about him is he hit them so quick," Georgia State coach Rod Barnes said of Hawthorne's hot streak. "You come from a place where they weren't hitting any threes, and then he hits one. You think, 'The law of averages says they're going to hit one.' Then he hits another one. We changed defenses; we rigged something up."
It worked. Hawthorne (team-high 17 points) made only one more three-pointer late, to keep the Dragons in the game. In the meantime, Mendez - the third-leading scorer in the conference at 21.5 points per game in CAA play - found his stroke. He scored 10 straight points during a 2:30 stretch that put the Panthers (6-14, 3-7) back up, 54-53. The junior scored only six points on 2-for-11 shooting when the teams met earlier this month at Drexel, but he finished with a game-high 23 this time around.
"We did a really good job on him at our place," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "He made big plays. We lost him a couple of times, but how are you going to lose the third-leading scorer in the league? We did it, and he made us pay for it."
Once he did, the game became about free throws. That's an area in which Dragons have struggled this season, and that didn't change.
They made only nine of 19 from the free-throw line, with perhaps the biggest foul shots coming with 3:02 left. Frank Elegar stepped to the line for Drexel with a chance to cut into a 56-53 deficit. The team's leading scorer this season, Elegar missed both tries, adding to his struggles on a night when he had only seven points and a season low with zero rebounds.
The Panthers followed his misses with a basket to stretch the lead to 58-53, and the hole was too big for the Dragons. The free throw shooting, especially compared with Georgia State's 15-for-21 performance, might have been the difference.
"You look at the stat sheet for tonight's game, and you say to yourself, 'They lost?' " Flint said. "But you just look at 9-for-19 from the foul line . . . We missed some easy layups, too, down the stretch. They stepped up and made their foul shots. That's how we've played all year." *