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Drexel 78, Saint Joseph's 75 (MBB): Notes & Quotes

11/18/2021, 1:30am EST
By Rich Flanagan

Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)

Camren Wynter scored 22 points and converted the game-winning floater with 32 seconds remaining as Drexel held on to defeat Saint Joseph’s, 78-75 at Hagan Arena on Wednesday night. James Butler chipped in 23 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season and sophomore guard Xavier Bell added 10 points to spearhead the Dragons (2-1).

The Hawks (2-1), who shot 6-for-19 from behind the three-point line, were led by sophomore forward Jordan Hall (20 points) and Taylor Funk (18).

Here’s how things played out:

James Butler (above, in 2020) and Cam Wynter were two major reasons Drexel held off St. Joe's. (CoBL File Photo)

Wynter, Butler showcase senior savvy

Spiker called a timeout and motioned to Wynter. The Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year has earned the right to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line, especially in a tie. Being an emulation of his head coach out on the floor, Spiker wants Wynter to have the ball, and the senior guard has a knack for making something happen.

“It was the play Coach Spiker called,” Wynter said. “He wanted to give me some space and just let me make a play. I did my best to get to the basket.”

He took his defender one dribble to the left to line him up in the center of the court, then went to his strong hand down the right side and lofted a simple floater off the glass.

Hall came down the floor, split a double team and found himself stunned to have a wide open layup that he could not convert. Wynter corralled the rebound and Hall fouled him. The 6-foot-3 point guard hit one of two at the line to give the Dragons a 75-72 lead with 19 seconds remaining. After Hall found Ejike Obinna for an alley-oop to cut the deficit to one, Wynter was fouled on the inbound pass and nailed two more free throws.

The understanding to know what to do and how to react in late-game situations is something Spiker and Wynter have learned together.

“It’s the trust that we have in one another.” Wynter said. “I’ve been here for four years and when it’s winning time, he comes to me a lot. I try to deliver and execute.”

Butler recorded his 34th career double-double and his eighth game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. He opened the scoring for the Dragons with a three-pointer from the top of the key and pulled down one of the biggest rebounds of the night. With Hall at the line after hitting the first free throw of a one-and-one, Butler hauled in the second miss then hit one of two to make it 78-75 with four seconds left. Hawks freshman Erik Reynolds II (13 points) heaved a shot at the horn from half-court that did not hit the rim.

Trusting his two veteran leaders to make the right decisions in situations like this one gives Spiker a peace of mind that many coaches covet.

“They’re playmakers and I’m confident they’re going to make plays and step up,” Spiker said. “They make free throws, knock down threes and get loose balls.”

St. Joe’s missed four shots in the final 1:59 after Hall banked in a mid-range jumper to tie the game at 72-72. The Hawks had their opportunities but it was Wynter who had the final say, and Hawks head coach Billy Lange knows the resilience the two experienced Dragons players have from being battle-tested.

“You go in and hope you execute perfectly against Wynter and Butler,” Lange said. “They don’t give in and that’s good to learn from that.”

Butler hit his first two 3-pointers of the season, a year after only hitting four in 20 games.

Jordan Hall (above) had 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists against Drexel. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Hall continues to take steps toward next level

The patience to wait on how the defense will react to a pick and roll and the vision to find teammates in tight windows are aspects of Hall’s game that cannot be taught. The 6-foot-7 forward has the height to see over smaller defenders and the precision to find his teammates all over the floor. In addition to his 20 points, he recorded seven rebounds and six assists. He led all freshmen nationally in assists per game (5.7) last season and he has 19 helpers through three games.

His versatility is what makes him an attractive prospect at the next level and everything he possesses in his arsenal was on full display against the Dragons.

He drilled a stepback jumper from straightaway then found Funk for a corner trey that put the Hawks within two at the 18:48 mark of the second half. He scored 14 points after halftime including four straight to cut the margin down to one at 62-61. He turned the corner on a pick and roll and finished on the left side of the rim to tie the game at 70 with 3:29 left to play.

Over the last two seasons, Hall has tallied nine games with at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists, which includes his triple-double performance against La Salle in February (22 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists). He is becoming more comfortable looking for his shot and his form is steadily improving. He likes to operate inside the arc and, while he only shot 1-for-7 from the long distance, shooting is something that will come with more games under his belt.

Taylor Funk (above) has seen a lot of change in his years with St. Joe's. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Funk sees progression of young corps

Funk swished a 3-pointer from the corner then threw down a huge one-handed slam off a gorgeous pass from Hall to give the Hawks a 39-37 lead early in the second half. A fifth-year senior who entered the season with 1,069 career points, the 6-8 forward has been through a lot during his career and he’s seen a lot of players come through the program under then-head coach Phil Martelli and now Lange.

He burst onto the scene as a freshman playing alongside Shavar Newkirk, James Demery and Chris Clover (St. Joe’s Prep). Year two saw the emergence of Charlie Brown and Jared Bynum and the return of Lamarr Kimble (Neumann-Goretti). He redshirted as a junior after only playing seven games due to a right-hand injury. Last year, while preparing to return to the floor, he was tasked with leading one of the younger Hawks teams in recent memory. Wins were hard to come by but Funk relished the opportunity to teach younger players like Hall, Dahmir Bishop (Imhotep Charter) and Cameron Brown how to take lessons from each game and learn from them.

“Coach Lange put me in a good position here and I’m more than happy about what I’ve seen so far,” Funk said. “We’re young but the growth of this team is outstanding from where we started to where we are now. I really couldn’t be more satisfied but still we’re not even close to where we could be.”

Funk returned to form and averaged 17.4 points per game in 20 games for St. Joe’s, and the Lancaster native has been an indispensable part of Lange’s culture shift since coming in 2019 when the Hawks only won six games.

“I wish I could have multiple of him because you need more of him,” Lange saud. “He did a great job tonight then at the end some of our younger guys who haven’t been in this situation before or haven’t played a city game yet learned. He’s been phenomenal from the moment I got here. I couldn’t be more proud of who this guy is and what he means to Saint Joseph’s basketball.”

He hit a 3--pointer to put the Hawks within five with 11:02 remaining then stripped Drexel’s Tre Brown on the ensuing possession. Reynolds came down and drove right to the lane for two. His biggest player of the night came on a missed three-pointer from the top of the key but Wynter fouled him. Funk calmly hit three consecutive free throws to tie things up at 66-66 with 4:46 left.

The focus for Funk is to leave the program in a better state than it was three seasons ago and he’s noticing something that has vastly changed in that timespan: each player is holding one another accountable.

“The younger guys are leaders out there,” Funk said. “They’re telling me things to do and that’s how you become good. I don’t care that they’re freshmen and they don’t care that I’m a fifth-year senior. If they see something, they’ll tell me and that’s why we’re going to be good.”

Historic win for the Dragons

As Zach Spiker spoke with the likes of former Drexel great Malik Rose and former Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers coach Jim Lynam, he was buzzing with a sense of excitement that he had not felt in a long time.

“Think of where we were a year ago, when you could hear every play call,” Spiker said. “This is what we love to do.”

Playing at the Carrier Dome, as the Dragons did on Sunday, can be a spectacle but the emotion felt playing a game against a fellow Philadelphia opponent brought an added element. If the fans were not enough to make Spiker and the Dragons cherish the victory, knowing that the team won at St. Joe’s for the first time since the 1977-78 season will certainly be seen as a major accomplishment. Add that to the fact Drexel advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years a season ago and this group is making history as it continues to find ways to win.

The Dragons and Hawks first met in 1918 and Drexel has only won 11 games in the all-time series. Last season, Butler posted a double-double with 26 points and 16 boards to lift Drexel to its first triumph over the Hawks since 2010. The tide has swayed in the direction of the Dragons and the two seniors are a major reason why.

St. Joe’s hosts multitude of Philadelphia Catholic League prospects

Wednesday night was the first true chance for the next crop of potential Hawks to witness the atmosphere of a local Division I contest with raucous fans on hand to take it all in. St. Joe’s hosted Archbishop Carroll sophomore Moses Hipps, one of the most heralded prospects in the area, along with Archbishop Ryan’s Thomas Sorber and Darren Williams. Roman Catholic junior Xzayvier Brown, who holds an offer from St. Joe’s, was in attendance.

Archbishop Wood senior guard Justin Moore, who has officially signed to play for Drexel, was also courtside to take in the game.

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