Dean Zulkofske (@deanzulkofske)
He hadn’t missed all game. Mate Okros accepted the pass in the left corner, jumped and released a clean three-ball to begin the second half. But the shot lipped out. It looked good until it wasn’t.
Mate Okros (above) was a perfect 4-4 from the field in the first half. (Photo: Isaiah Vazquez/The NewsHouse)
After leading by as many as five points in the first half and going into the locker room up one, Drexel fell to Syracuse 75-60 at the Carrier Dome on Sunday night. The Orange outscored Zach Spiker's team 43-27 in the second half and forced the Dragons into 20 turnovers.
"Every game is a learning experience, whether it's win or lose," Spiker said. "There's something you can take from it to be better for the next one. I think we have a lot we can learn from this one."
Okros was 4-4 from the field with 11 points in a first half where Drexel sliced through Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Okros led the Dragons' scoring and finished with 16 points, followed by 11 points from Camren Wynter. Spiker's game plan attacked weak points in SU's defense and placed the ball into the hands of Drexel's skilled shooters.
Spiker rotated through Melik Martin, Amari Williams and James Butler at the five-spot in the center of SU's zone. The Dragons shot 46 percent from the field and 41 percent from three in the first half. Williams matched up well physically against Syracuse's centers Frank Anselem and Jesse Edwards.
"I thought we were competitive," Spiker said. "I thought we were very efficient in the first half."
But Jim Boeheim's Syracuse squad looked like an entirely different team in the second frame. SU jumped out of the locker room on an early 8-0 run. After Okros' miss on the Dragons' opening possession, Drexel turned the ball over on its next two offensive chances. The Orange knocked down their first seven shots to open the final 20 minutes.
Amari Williams (above) matched up well against Syracuse's centers. (Photo: Isaiah Vazquez/The NewsHouse)
"I thought the start to that second half was the absolute worst-case scenario," Spiker said. "We turned it over, they scored, we turned it over, they scored some more. That put us in a difficult spot."
And the Orange didn’t do the Dragons any favors. Buddy Boeheim shot 50 percent from the field and from beyond the arc and led Syracuse with 23 points. Villanova transfer Cole Swider scored nine points for the Orange in the second half.
Collectively, SU shot 63 percent from the field and 57 percent from three, capitalizing on Drexel's 12 turnovers in the final 20 minutes. Drexel's backcourt of Wynter, Xavier Bell and Tre Brown combined for nine turnovers.
"You gotta take care of the basketball," Spiker said. "I thought even on our misses in the second we dialed up some stuff that was getting the ball in and to guys to make some shots."
Syracuse was Drexel's first Division I opponent after Fairleigh Dickinson's bus broke down and postponed the schools' scheduled matchup on Friday. The Dragons walked into the Carrier Dome with their only 2021 action being a 103-74 win over Division III Neumann.
"We had planned to play a game on Friday and weren't able to do it so that was unfortunate," Spiker said. "I don’t know what outcome that had on this game."
A game where the Dragons not only competed but controlled the tempo for some of the night. Costly turnovers paired with the Orange momentum – Syracuse scored 25 points off of turnovers - killed all chances of a Drexel upset. A lot of that goes back to the opening minutes of the second half.
"Being able to start the second half and understanding the value of those first four minutes, they're huge," Spiker said. "Disappointed with the outcome, but certainly some positives inside of it."