Bob Ford: Fatigue brings down Dragons

Posted: March 21, 2012

And then there were none.

Drexel was the last Philadelphia men's team standing in the postseason entering Tuesday night's NIT quarterfinal against Massachusetts in the sauna at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

The others already had fallen - Temple in the NCAA tournament, St. Joseph's and La Salle in the NIT, and Penn in the CBI - and if there was the burden of local pride the Dragons carried into the match with the Minutemen, it was nothing compared to the burden of running with UMass for 40 minutes.

Massachusetts won, 72-70, coming from behind to do so and advance to the NIT's glamour rounds in Madison Square Garden. By the end on Tuesday night, Drexel was worn out and just plain out. The Dragons finished the season with a 29-7 record, and with some measure of vindication for a program that wasn't invited to the NCAA tournament, but knew it could have won some games there.

"I saw [Temple coach Fran Dunphy] the other day and told him what a great year he had and he said, 'Ehhhh . . .' Because that's how you feel when you lose and that's it, the finality of it," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "We had a chance to go to New York City, and we wanted that. There will be time to think about what we did this season, but this isn't the time. I'm still a little [mad], because you want to continue to play."

It certainly looked as if the Dragons were going to make it to New York next week. They ran their half-court offense crisply in the first half, kept Massachusetts from running, and led, 41-31, at halftime. The second half started strong, too, and Drexel led by 17 points before the game turned.

Flint will watch the tape of this and pick away at what happened, but it might just be as simple as saying the Dragons got tired. It began as they creeped into foul trouble and became tentative on defense, and it continued as they got loose with the ball and gave it away on ill-considered passes and dribbles into traffic.

The Minutemen, finally seeing an opening, took advantage, and jet-quick point guard Chaz Williams got them out into the open court. Williams made a three, guard Jesse Morgan tossed in a couple of others, and it was all unraveling for the Dragons. With both Samme Givens and Daryl McCoy in foul trouble, Terrell Vinson of UMass found room inside where there had been none in the first half.

"They wore us down. We ran out of gas. It was hot up there, and if the game was going to go into the 70s or 80s, we were going to be in trouble. We needed to keep the game in the 60s," Flint said. "But it was hot and they continued to come at us."

This was the first home loss of the season for Drexel, which was 15-0 at the DAC and, counting last season, had an 18-game home winning streak. The loss marked the last college game for Givens, who became just the third player in Dragons history to surpass 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

"I'm disappointed that we lost, but I'm not disappointed in my teammates," he said. "We played hard and fought to the last game. That's how it should be. It wasn't a win, but we went out fighting. We showed we're a good team and can contend with anybody in the country. We play good basketball. It's not going to be the prettiest, but we make you work."

UMass got all it wanted on this night, and still needed to survive a Frantz Massenat shot in the lane that would have tied the score and forced overtime. He was checked hard and had to drift to his right before letting it go. The shot found the back of the rim, bounced around a little, with Givens taking a swipe at it, before a UMass player swatted it into the backcourt and that was the game.

Massenat had a good look, but wasn't lucky, which was also his fate at the end of the Colonial Athletic Association championship game when his three-point shot to tie went off the back rim. The Dragons had to wait after that one to find out when they would play next and in which tournament.

It turned out to be the NIT, and they won twice - setting a school record with their 29 wins - before hitting the wall in the second half against Massachusetts. True to form, it was no prettier when they were winning than when they were losing, but it's never as hot when you're up by 10.

"We're 29-7 and I feel like we should be 30-6. After a game like that, you always feel like you should have done more," Flint said.

There wasn't any more to do, though. Time ran out and there are no games left on the schedule. It ends this way for all of them, and if it's consolation for Flint and Drexel that it ended later for the Dragons than for anyone else in the city, that will have to wait.

Ask any coach or any player. It isn't supposed to end at all.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at philly.com/postpatterns and read recent columns at www.philly.com/bobford

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