Drexel leaves last season's nightmare behind

Bruiser Flint's Drexel Dragons won just 13 games last season, which began with high hopes. Now the Dragons are 3-1 entering a clash with Arizona.
Bruiser Flint's Drexel Dragons won just 13 games last season, which began with high hopes. Now the Dragons are 3-1 entering a clash with Arizona. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff)
Posted: November 28, 2013

The NIT Season Tip-Off is down to four schools at Madison Square Garden. It was set up with the idea that Duke would eventually be in New York, and Arizona. Alabama, sure . . .

"It's almost like the old Sesame Street thing," Bruiser Flint said this week. "One of these things is not like the other. You know what I mean? Alabama, Duke, Arizona, Drexel."

Flint, of course, coaches Drexel. He knew his Dragons, now 3-1, were quite capable of getting to New York. Beating Rutgers to get there was not exactly like knocking off Kentucky.

Then again, Drexel was capable of winning a lot more than 13 games last season. Didn't happen.

"As much as we can talk about the injuries and stuff last season, we didn't have the right attitude to win," Flint said, sitting in his office off Market Street. "The injuries hurt us because we didn't have a lot of guys. Even before that, our attitude was awful. We played that way. I don't know why."

He wasn't saying his players didn't care. They did. Sometimes they tried too hard.

"We just didn't have it together," Flint said. "Honestly, I knew it early."

Now Drexel's coach is getting more confident that the Dragons have put last season's agonies behind them. He wasn't shocked when Drexel gave UCLA all it could handle in the season opener. "Down one, minute to go, we turn it over," Flint said.

He wasn't bemoaning anything, just pointing out that the opener was a good ball game. The next game told him more, Flint said. The Dragons took off from the California sunshine early the next morning and made their way straight to Illinois for a game a few days later at Illinois State. Flint was on the lookout for a hangover but the Dragons won, 78-70.

"We could have hung our heads," he said. "I think we played pretty good in a tough spot. The things we saw last year, it doesn't seem like it's going to affect this team."

Their help defense has looked aggressive, and Flint said other coaches have pointed out to him that even when he subs, he still has two or three guys out there that really have to be guarded. That's always a key to having a decent team. There isn't as much pressure on Drexel guards Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee, as talented as they are.

Chris Fouch, back for an encore after last season was derailed early by a broken ankle, leads Drexel with 17.3 points a game. That doesn't even tell the whole story.

"I actually think he brings an ease to the other people on the floor," Flint said. "I think they say, 'He's here. We're OK."

Not that Flint minds Fouch's production.

"He doesn't need a lot of shots to produce a lot of points," Flint said of the New Yorker, a veteran of past Garden battles. "He doesn't need 20 shots to get 20 points."

The other X factor is the early play of forward Tavon Allen. He has been a revelation, more than doubling his scoring average from a year ago, up to 13.3 points a game. Has the 6-foot-7 Allen found his ceiling yet? He went from five points at UCLA to 12 against Illinois State, then 15 against Elon in the NIT first round, and 21 at Rutgers.

"He was one of our best guys in the preseason, then at UCLA, he didn't look at the basket," said Flint, who told Allen afterward that he had been the only Dragons player who had really played well in both preseason scrimmages, against George Washington and Temple.

"He can score, and he can do different things that the other guys can't do," Flint said. "He can put it on the floor."

Flint just wants Allen to understand he's capable of being an all-league player.

"Last year, you were out there but you weren't out there," Flint said he told Allen. "You've got enough to be that type of player."

The team we expected Drexel to be last year, here it is. Let's see how it plays out. Beating Rutgers was huge because it got Drexel to a big show, into the Garden against an Arizona team that is capable of winning a national title, with Duke in the other semi. These kinds of games help Drexel's strength of schedule, win or lose. Who cares if they are the ones who aren't like the others?

This Drexel team, more than most, understands that seasons don't always play out the way you plot them on paper.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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