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Drexel MBB locks down Monmouth to advance to CAA quarters

03/04/2023, 8:45pm EST
By Konner Metz

Konner Metz (@konner_metz)

WASHINGTON D.C. — At first glance, it’s been a tale of two seasons for Drexel. One at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, and one on the road. 

No longer playing in the friendly confines of their home arena where they boast 12 wins, the Dragons are looking to overcome their away struggles during the regular season (just three road wins) at the CAA tournament in Washington D.C.  

Saturday was a good start to that mindset for the Dragons.

No. 5 Drexel led wire-to-wire, handling No. 13 Monmouth 64-45 in the CAA’s second-round slate. From the tip, the Dragons controlled game flow with their defense, shutting out the Hawks from scoring at all until 9:13 remained in the first half.

“Defense has to travel, we all know that,” Drexel head coach Zach Spiker said after the win.

Drexel forward Amari Williams led the Dragons' defensive effort in a CAA tournament win Saturday over Monmouth. (Photo: Rafael Suanes/CAA Athletics)

The Dragons (17-14, 12-8 CAA) jumped out to an 18-0 lead before the Hawks (7-26, 5-13) got on the scoreboard, and even then, Monmouth only managed to shoot 5-of-28 from the field in the first half. The Hawks had 16 first-half fouls and 10 turnovers in the opening frame.

Junior 6-10 forward Amari Williams contributed a double-double (16 pts, 11 rebs), while wings Luke House and Lamar Oden Jr. added 11 and nine points, respectively.

Overall, it was quite the defensive showing for Drexel – the CAA’s top scoring defensive squad at 62.1 ppg – considering Monmouth poured in exactly 100 points in their opening-round victory versus No. 12 Hampton just a day prior. Spiker took plenty of time to laud the entire defensive effort, particularly from Williams.

“I think our staff does a good job from a scouting report standpoint, but at the end of the day, it’s about our players,” Spiker said. “And you’ve got one of the best shot-blockers in the country, one of the best rebounders in the country. And a top-25 scoring defense. I think that was on display. Just really proud of how the guys were locked in coming into this.”

Williams was a nuisance for an offensively-limited Monmouth group, as the back-to-back CAA Defensive Player of the Year clogged up the lane, forced driving guards to retreat and aided in limiting Monmouth to a 30% field goal rate.

He had 16 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting to go along with his impact defensively, plus a really solid day of protecting the basketball (only one turnover).

“I think it was an all-around performance, just kind of helping the team on both ends of the floor,” Williams said. “Finding the open man and rotating defense.”

“I think the bigger number probably is one turnover,” Spiker said of Williams’ day. There’s a lot of plays that I think earlier in this season would be offensive fouls or charges. I thought he had some great poise, jump stop, land on two feet.”

Saturday’s blowout sets up perhaps a rematch of Drexel’s toughest loss of the year. No. 4 UNCW will begin its tourney run against the Dragons tomorrow afternoon at the Entertainment & Sports Arena. Back on Feb. 16, the Seahawks (22-9, 12-6) downed Drexel at the DAC in two overtimes, 72-71.

That day, sophomore forward Trazarien White gave the Dragons fits, tallying 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Williams had 14 points, but it was guard Yame Butler who carried the Dragons’ offense in the defeat with 25 points and nine boards. 

Butler – who only made one shot and two points versus Monmouth – was often forced into a point-guard role during that back-and-forth battle with UNCW and other February games, since guard Jaime Bergens suffered a season-ending injury during a road matchup at Delaware on Feb. 8.

Spiker called it “one of the worst 24-hour stretches” for the program injury-wise when Bergens went down, as Drexel freshman guard Justin Moore was just beginning his own six-game absence.

Fortunately for Spiker’s guys, the Archbishop Wood product made his return on Saturday, and he was a big factor. Moore had a team-high eight dimes, plus seven points in 26 minutes against the Hawks. The CAA All-Rookie selection is sure to be a crucial part of Drexel’s prospects moving forward in the tournament.

“We went the last month of the season without a point guard,” Spiker said. “Yame Butler filled in admirably, but that’s not his true, true position. So to have any point guard back is great, to have Justin Moore and his talent level. 

“[Today] he hit the same shot he beat Charleston with [in February]. Left wing pull-up. I think everyone in the building that knows him, knew it was going in. We like him taking those shots.”

Three turnovers from Moore is something Spiker knows needs to get better for him individually as he gets his feet under him returning from injury, and the team as a whole. Drexel committed 15 turnovers Saturday, creating 16 Monmouth points off of those mistakes.

Plus UNCW is no easy defense to crack – they sit second in the conference behind Drexel in points allowed (64 ppg). Takayo Siddle’s guys only allowed 59 points to Drexel before the teams clashed in the two extra periods.

“It was tough, it was our first loss at home in conference,” Williams said of that loss. “But I think we kind of put that behind us, we’re ready for whatever task comes ahead. We knew we were gonna play them, so I think we just go out there with the same mindset, knowing what we have to do to come out with a win again.”

After bowing out in the CAA quarterfinals last year as the No. 4 seed, Drexel’s looking to seize some revenge on the Seahawks and outdo 2022’s showing in the nation’s capital. 

Back in 2021, the Dragons took home the championship as the No. 6 seed, so it’s not a new spot for some of the team’s veterans and Spiker himself. But this time around with an expanded conference tournament, it’ll take an extra day and an extra victory, beginning Sunday with less than 24 hours to prepare for UNCW.

“No doubt a quick turnaround, but we’re not complaining about advancing in March,” Spiker said.

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