Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
Tre Brown wanted another chance. That’s all. It gnawed at the Drexel 6-2 fifth-year senior guard that he made some, in his words, “boneheaded plays.”
So, with 8.5 seconds left Monday night at the DAC and the Dragons down by a point to Colonial Athletic Association rival Towson, Brown hit two of the biggest shots of his life to propel the Dragons to a 65-61 victory in the CAA season opener for both teams.
Tre Brown (above, in December) hit the game-winning foul shots as Drexel won its CAA opener. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Drexel’s victory snapped the three-game winning streak of Towson (9-5, 0-1 CAA) and it gave the Dragons (6-5, 1-0) a nice shot of adrenaline.
The last time Drexel played was December 14, a 76-69 victory over Coppin State.
The Dragons crawled to the finish without 6-8 fifth-year senior James Butler, who missed the last 14:52 left due to an injury and was averaging 14.5 points and 10.3 rebounds entering the game. The undersized Dragons gave up 17 offensive rebounds, but they also held Towson to 3-of-20 shooting from three-point range, including forcing the Tigers into missing their first 13 shots from beyond the arc.
In the end, the game was in the hands of Brown.
The chin went up. The eyes set. He raised his arms with ice water sliding through his veins and sank two free throws to give Drexel a 62-61 lead. A foul and a Towson tech added some cushion for the final result.
“Everyone on the staff and my teammates believed in me,” said Brown, who began his college career at Coastal Carolina and then played at D-II CSU-Pueblo (Colo.) before coming to Drexel as a graduate transfer this past offseason. “I probably never did this in a game, and it’s every little kid’s dream to win a game with a big shot, and that’s what happened tonight.
“I wanted the ball big time. I had two tough turnovers, and just boneheaded plays, and I couldn’t wait to get it back and make up for it. I had a big chip on my shoulder when I went to the line. I knew I had a chance.”
Mate Okros (above) hit five 3-pointers to pace Drexel with 15 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Mate Okros led the Dragons with 15 points, in 5-for-6 shooting. Dragons star guard Cameron Wynter finished with 13 and Melik Martin chipped in with 11.
Towson’s 6-7 junior forward Charles Thompson finished with a game-high 18—but 12 of the 18 came in the first half.
“(Towson) had Ohio State on the ropes, so this was a big win for us, and Tre Brown had some big minutes for us,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. “I try to be transparent in recruiting and talk to guys about what they can come here and do. We’ve had a lot of conversations.
“He’s an incredible kid. It’s easy to cheer for the guy. I pounded him on the chest (during the timeout prior to the game-winning free throws) and said ‘That’s what you came here for.’ He said, ‘Let’s go do it.’”
Spiker said the long layoff has afforded other players to step up into larger roles. He said the victory would put “air in the tires” of his team.
In the closing seconds, Towson’s Terry Nolan’s driving layup missed, Oden grabbed the rebound, was fouled and in frustration the Tigers’ Cam Holden was nailed with a technical.
“I thought we competed and made that last shot a tough shot and it was one of the times we got a defensive rebound,” Spiker said. “With 17 offensive boards, you would say that team probably didn’t deserve to lose with that effort. That’s a credit to our guys. Some shots from big guys, from everybody.”
The Dragons started well in the second half, bursting out to a 10-2 run, giving the Dragons their largest lead at the time, 39-31, on Okros’ third three-pointer with 16:58 left to play.
Eight minutes later, that edge was wiped out after Towson’s Nicolas Timberlake tied it at 43-43 on a pair of free throws, Holden, Holden’s follow-up basket off of the Tigers’ 15th offensive rebound and Nolan Jr. finally hitting a trey for Towson, which missed its first 13 three-point attempts.
Suddenly, the Dragons were looking up at their largest deficit of the game, 48-43, punctuating an 11-0 Towson run with 8:56 to play.
The teams went into intermission tied at 29-29. But the Dragons seemingly could not do anything to stop Thompson, who scored Towson’s first eight points and nine of their first 11.
Tigers held the lead twice, 2-0, and 15-14 in the first half. In a theme that the Tigers would carry the entire game, their strength was scoring inside, where 26 of their 29 first-half points came from. Towson had problems outside, where the Tigers went 0-for-8 in the first 20 minutes.
Drexel, meanwhile, were 6-of-14 (42.9%) from three-point range in the half, and just eight of its 29 points came inside the paint. The Dragons watched their largest lead of the half, 28-22, on a pair of Okros’ treys with 2:53 left in the half quickly evaporate on a 7-1 run—courtesy of the Tigers’ inside attack.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.