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Injury issues catch up with Drexel in CAA quarterfinal loss

03/05/2023, 10:15pm EST
By Konner Metz

Konner Metz (@konner_metz)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Yame Butler isn’t a true point guard, but when Drexel was bitten by the injury bug in early February, the junior guard stepped up valiantly.

“A month ago, Justin [Moore] went out the day before we played Delaware, in practice,” head coach Zach Spiker said. “Jamie Bergens stepped in and was dominant and played incredible, his best game of the season. And with three minutes left, tore his meniscus, he was done for the year. Yame Butler had 17 that game and played and carried us for a stretch.”

The Dragons won three of their last six to maintain the CAA’s No. 5 seed without the junior Bergens or freshman Moore. In their first tournament game, Moore returned from injury, allowing Butler to transition back into his normal role a bit more. 

Justin Moore (above) and Drexel had their season end in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

But Butler – the team’s third-leading scorer – was struck by the same bad luck that’s seemed to plague Drexel all year when he limped off the floor with 8:16 remaining in the first half of Sunday’s quarterfinal. His day and season were both over in the blink of an eye.

“For him to go down today, that’s some pretty cruel fate,” Spiker said.

Butler’s absence, along with a second-half injury to senior forward Mate Okros, limited the Dragons’ ability to keep pace with No. 4 UNCW down the stretch, the Seahawks prevailing 73-68 over Drexel in Washington D.C.

Butler was 0-for-3 before exiting with his lower-body ailment, while Okros tallied six points in 26 minutes before his injury. It forced Spiker’s crew to rely more on Moore, the talented newcomer from Archbishop Wood, who had a team-high 16 points, plus six boards and four dimes. But the absence of two key pieces clearly affected what Drexel could do versus a tough UNCW squad.

“Those are two guys that have hit really big, big shots and made big, big plays for us,” Spiker said of Butler and Okros. “Yame struggled down here, and didn’t even really get an opportunity today. It’s gut-wrenching to see, quite frankly. I don’t have any other words for it.”

With 12:41 remaining in the game, the Dragons were seemingly in a comfortable position after guard Coletrane Washington (9 pts, 3/5 from deep) drilled a long ball to push a Drexel advantage to 57-45.

But no lead is safe when Nick Farrar gets hot, and that’s exactly what happened in the following minutes.

The 6-7, 230-pound Seahawk forward pummeled the Drexel defense inside the paint and beyond the arc, and keyed UNCW to a 16-0 run and a 61-57 lead. Farrar had 15 second-half points and totaled 19 overall (8-of-10 FG, 3-of-5 from deep) despite playing with four fouls down the stretch.

“Nick Farrar’s part of it,” Spiker said of the back-breaking UNCW streak. “And certainly we mixed our coverages up during that time. He had a couple shots, they had a couple different actions for him. It was a little bit staggering around some stoppages, a couple times called timeout. They hit some shots. This is a team on the season that hasn’t shot the three incredibly well. They hit some timely shots right there.”

Eventually, it became the Farrar show in D.C., with UNCW fans erupting after every made shot. The Seahawks gapped it to 71-64 with under four minutes to go, but the Dragons answered with a couple key stops and four points of their own.

At a three-point deficit and under 10 seconds to go, junior forward Amari Williams (13 pts, 7 reb) and Moore played a two-man game, with the latter getting as good of a look Drexel could have asked for to tie the game. But Moore’s shot rimmed out, sealing Drexel’s final fate in the CAA tourney.

“We were in here yesterday, and I think you’ll find coaches tonight and tomorrow and Tuesday, and they’ll say, it’s a hard-fought CAA game,” Spiker said. “These seedings, they mean nothing, it just shows where you finished in the league. I think when the ball gets thrown up here in D.C., at least in our situation, they’re pretty heavily contested games, regardless of the score.”

Senior Luke House (Archbishop Carroll) had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, Drexel’s second-leading scorer on the day along with Williams. House’s two triples in the first half propelled the Dragons to a 38-34 halftime lead in a back-and-forth first frame where both teams shot over 60 percent from the field.

Moore was particularly on his game in the first 20 minutes, tallying nine points, including a couple deadly mid-range jumpers, the trademark of his offensive arsenal. The former First-Team All-Catholic League selection delivered all year – he ends as the team’s second-leading scorer with 9.3 points per contest.

Spiker praised the young guard after Sunday’s heartbreaking defeat, recognizing his performance as one of the best in his rookie campaign.

“This season taught me through my ups and downs, just to stay focused,” Moore said. “Stay within the team. Let people help me, let people guide me through the season. 

“Gaining confidence throughout the season helped me. I started off slow, then I picked it up. But it’s all within the team, the trust of my teammates and coaches. So I feel like if you just stay steady, you’re going to be fine. Just don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”

Moore’s potential is a symbol for a Drexel team that has the chance to return nearly everyone, including the 6-10 and back-to-back CAA Defensive Player of the Year Williams, Okros, House, Butler and guard Lamar Oden Jr. 

But the fifth-year Washington walked off the hardwood Sunday knowing it was his last time in a Drexel uniform. During his sophomore and senior years with the program, he shot over 35 percent from three-point land; his junior year (when Drexel won the CAA) was missed to injuries. 

This season, Washington notched a career-high 9.2 points per game, along with putting his assist to turnover ratio in the green for the first time in his career. Spiker’s locker room words after Sunday’s loss centered around Washington.

“We took a few minutes to really acknowledge and celebrate what all Coletrane Washington has done during his time at Drexel,” Spiker said. “The guy literally has added 30 pounds to his frame. 30 pounds, and became a lockdown defender. And in the middle of that process, came in and was a sniper. I think you saw the best of both of his abilities today. He hit some open shots, carried us a little bit and really defended.

“We’re going to miss him in our program, and for the rest of our guys, I hope that a tightly-contested quarterfinal game is just the beginning.”

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