By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
UNIVERSITY CITY — Zach Spiker wasn’t satisfied.
The Dragons got the result they wanted Friday night at the Daskalakis Athletic Center: a 65-47 win over Fairfield. The frustrations of a 2-2 start to the season still lingered following a second half that left something to be desired.
“We’ve got a tough group. I don’t think we’ve played our toughest basketball to this point and that’s very disappointing to sit here and be 2-2 knowing that we had some opportunities in the Big 5,” Drexel’s head coach said. “Frankly, that still bothers me, pisses me off a little bit, but I’m glad we did better today.”
The Dragons fell behind in a comeback win over Winthrop on Nov. 11 and trailed Temple heading into half in Tuesday’s 66-64 Big 5 loss. Fairfield scored the first bucket of the game Friday before Drexel netted 18 of the game’s next 20 points to jump out to an 18-4 lead eight minutes in.
Drexel junior Garfield Turner scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting Friday against Fairfield. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL File)
Drexel locked down the Stags — 9-of-30 from the floor and 2-for-10 from three — in the first half to go up 39-20 at the break. A pair of threes in the final minute spoiled an otherwise incredibly dominant first 20 minutes of defensive basketball.
“To be honest we tend to set goals for ourselves,” senior Lamar Oden Jr. said of the defense. “For example, they shoot 33 threes a game, so we go before the game, ‘They’re only going to get 12 threes a half.’ We try to beat those goals, and we get them every game and we try to be our best and be that defensive team that we want to be.”
They accomplished those goals only letting Fairfield fire up 10 threes (2-for-10) in the first half and 11 more (4-for-11) in the second half. Spiker said there were some lapses in the second half as Fairfield outscored Drexel 27-26 in the frame, but the Dragons (2-2) never let Fairfield within 17 points in the final half.
Senior forward Amari Williams stuffed the statsheet for Drexel with 13 point, 13 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal.
Drexel held Temple to 31 percent shooting in a 66-64 Big 5 loss on Tuesday. They showed that was no accident holding Fairfield to a 33 percent shooting night Friday. Spiker hopes that’s a sign of things to come.
The Dragons’ defense ranked 16th in Division I in scoring defense (62.4 ppg) and 101st in field goal percentage defense (42.5 percent) a season ago. It was a far cry from Spiker’s first two seasons at Drexel when his team’s ranked 302 and 313, respectively, in scoring defense and 291 and 283, respectively, in field goal percentage defense.
Drexel held opponents under 50 points five times last season. They held opponents under 34 percent shooting just twice in 2022-23 and have already accomplished that feat two times in four games.
“I’d love for it to be (our identity),” Spiker said. “I think too many times people want to characterize my time at Army and here as some kind of fun offense, but the reality is you win with defense. We held a Division I basketball team to 47 points. I think that’s a pretty good effort.”
Sophomore guard Justin Moore came into the game tied with Williams for the team lead in scoring at 14.0 ppg, while shooting 37.5 percent from the floor and 18.2 percent from the 3-point line. He was still struggling with his stroke on Friday night, scoring six points on 3-of-10 shooting (0-of-3 from 3-point range).
The Dragons got plenty enough elsewhere on the offensive end with 10 different players finding the scoring column, nine of them finding the bottom of the net before the end of the first half.
Along with Williams’ team-high 13 points, senior Jamie Bergens scored 10 points and junior Garfield Turner added nine points on 4-for-4 shooting. Oden Jr. scored four points to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists.
A 42-26 edge on the glass, including nine offensive boards illustrated some of the toughness Spiker eluded too.
“We all had the mindset to stay aggressive and stay with our principles because regardless of what the score’s looking like, even at halftime, we gotta stay with what we do and how we get to where we want to go,” Oden Jr. said.
Drexel’s gone loss, win, loss, win to start the season. The Dragons host Queens (N.C.) on Sunday, looking for their first win streak of 2023-24.
“I think it’s just staying together, getting guys confident, just keep the momentum going because we’ve got a long season ahead,” Oden Jr. said. “It’s the first couple games, so we gotta keep it going and pushing each other to be great.”