Drexel falls to VCU in final, 59-56

Posted: March 06, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - Since early January, Drexel's basketball team had faced little adversity. But the Dragons were hit with seemingly two months' worth in 20 minutes during Monday night's Colonial Athletic Association final.

And though they trailed by 16 points at halftime, they didn't go down without a fight that was as impressive as their season. But the Dragons still went down, falling by 59-56 to Virginia Commonwealth in front of 11,200 at a raucous Richmond Coliseum.

A three-point attempt by Drexel's Frantz Massenat that would have tied the score bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded. At first it appeared as if the ball would go in.

"I thought it was in," Massenat said. "It's just really disappointing."

Coach Bruiser Flint had a similar thought when the shot left the sophomore point guard's hand.

"It didn't go in and it looked good and it was a good look," Flint said. "It just didn't go in."

As a result, second-seeded VCU (28-6), last season's surprise Final Four participant, earned the CAA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. And anybody who draws the Rams surely won't relish that assignment.

Now one has to wonder whether top-seeded Drexel did enough to earn an NCAA bid. The Dragons are 27-6 and entered the title game on a 19-game winning streak.

"I think we have passed the eye test a few times this year," Flint said.

The Dragons entered the day with a 63 RPI and a schedule strength of 225, not the best of numbers, but VCU coach Shaka Smart says one has to look beyond the data in judging Drexel.

"I will be very, very surprised if they don't get in," Smart said. "I don't care what the numbers say, the RPI; the tournament committee does a great job of watching, and they have been watching over the past two months. And they watched tonight and saw Drexel come almost all the way back and take us all the way to the brink."

Drexel was led by freshman Damion Lee, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half. Junior guard Chris Fouch added 15 and Massenat scored 14. Tournament MVP Darius Theus, a speedy point guard, had a team-high 16 for VCU.

Drexel dug itself a crater in the first half, trailing, 35-19. The Dragons committed 12 of their 18 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. To put that in perspective, Drexel committed a total of 16 turnovers in 80 minutes of play during its previous two tournament games.

The Rams were double-teaming Massenat, making it difficult just to bring the ball up the court.

"They were putting a lot of pressure on me," he said. "We settled down in the second half."

When VCU wasn't stealing the ball, the Rams were swatting it, with four of their six blocked shots in the first half. Drexel shot just 7 for 26 (26.9 percent) in the first 20 minutes.

Flint's halftime message was simple.

"I didn't think we showed toughness in the first half," Flint said. "We did in the second half and didn't turn the ball over and got back into the game."

Drexel still trailed, 54-46, when VCU's Rob Brandenberg scored on a layup with 3:09 left, but the Dragons kept chipping away.

The Dragons got to within 57-56 when Fouch hit a three-pointer with 15 seconds left. VCU's Troy Daniels then hit two fouls shots with 11.9 seconds left, extending the lead to 59-56.

Then Drexel set up for its final shot, one that fell just short. The Dragons can only hope they don't suffer the same fate on Selection Sunday.

Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com, 856-779-3225 or @sjnard on Twitter. Find the Drexel blog at www.philly.com/dragonball

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