Kevin Cooney (@KevinCooney)
PRINCETON, N.J. — The crowd was filing out of Jadwin Gymnasium, heading home to enjoy a little dinner and a night of college football. His team was heading down from the team room to the showers a couple of levels down in this old hollowed-out golf ball of a building.
Camren Wynter (above) scored 18 points, but went 7-for-21 from the floor. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Zach Spiker, however, was still in full game mode. The sixth-year head Drexel coach had his afterburners on after looking at his scoresheet and seeing one stat that jumped out that explained the Dragons 81-79 loss to Princeton Saturday night.
After all, 17 turnovers will make any coach see red. So will losing 11-point leads in regulation and six-point leads in overtime. Throw it all together and well…
“It was atypical of what we have done this season,” Spiker said. “Typically, we’ve done a much better job with the ball this season. Typically, we have not turned it over. But we will double down on the character of our players and in the long term, it will work out.”
When asked if there was something that the Tigers did defensively that forced that uncommon performance, Spiker was direct.
“They did nothing that we didn’t expect,” he said.
But maybe this speaks to the role of expectations now on the north side of 32nd and Market Street. There was once a time at Drexel when a December loss on the road in overtime would be met with a shrug and a “get ‘em next time.” After all, if you believe the “guys in the desert,” Princeton entered this game as a slight favorite by three and a half points. The Tigers are a team many predict to be in the thick of the Ivy League race with Harvard and Yale. There’s no shame in losing to them.
No, what likely bugged Spiker was the way that it happened. After taking a 79-73 lead on Xavier Bell’s jumper with 2:47 left, the Dragons didn’t score the rest of overtime. Forward Tosan Evbuomwan scored six of the Tigers eight points after that stretch - the last two came when he muscled his way to the rim with just under four seconds left with a layup. Drexel’s last shot for a tie or a win fell short when Camren Wynter’s last-second layup attempt rolled off the back iron as the horn sounded.
Wynter’s night was mixed: 18 points, five rebounds, but 7-for-21 from the floor and five turnovers - some in really big spots. If the Dragons are going to win games like this, they need the CAA Preseason Player of the Year to be a little better than that.
Bell had a great night with 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting and some really good defensive stands. But in the end, the fact that Princeton’s largest lead of the game was two showed how this was one that got away from the Dragons more than any kind of talent deficit.
In fact, there were a lot of times midway through the first half and even through the first part of overtime where you wondered how the Dragons were not going to blow the Tigers out. They were quicker to spots, taking better shots and more impressive physically on the floor. But it was the unforced errors that managed to keep Princeton in it just enough to steal it at the end.
“I thought we executed well in certain spots and got good looks,” Spiker said. “The ball didn’t fall.”
And Spiker knows that Drexel can’t afford that when they get into the CAA schedule. Look, everyone knows that the season is defined by one week in Richmond – there’s no at-larges coming from the conference. But the things you do in December do form how you handle those moments.
And now — with a week off for exams before a trip next weekend to NCAA Tournament team Abilene Christian (who beat Texas in the tourney) and a pre-Christmas schedule that includes a game at Temple in two weeks — the Dragons are 4-4.
“We’re students first and we’ll take our finals because that’s very important to us,” Spiker said. “We’ll put some work in, have a chance to evaluate some things when we go home and get better.”