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Drexel bounces back with critical win over Hofstra in oh-so-tight CAA

02/15/2024, 11:30pm EST
By Riley Frain

Riley Frain (@rileyfrain)

After an undefeated 7-0 start to the Colonial Athletic Association campaign for Drexel, the last three weeks put the Dragons in desperate need of a big win. So much so, that at the conclusion of a late comeback win over Hofstra, head coach Zach Spiker entered the media room evidently in a spirited mood and treated himself to a Mountain Dew from the fridge.

It wasn’t much of a celebration following a comeback win to snap a three-game skid, but after a difficult road stretch, it was well deserved.

“We’d celebrate this one all night if we could but we need to have a sharp practice tomorrow and be ready to go,” Spiker said. “Mature teams with three fifth year guys and two juniors have to turn the page quickly.”

Jamie Bergens (above) and Drexel bounced back with a much-needed home win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Drexel’s come-from-behind, 79-77 win over Hofstra on Thursday night was a big one at a big time for Spiker’s Dragons, who are trying to turn things around and keep pace in what’s become a crazy Coastal Athletic Association. 

Now 9-4, the bounce back victory sends a confident Drexel team into a more manageable final stretch of the regular season, with five matchups left on the schedule and three to be played at home.

“They’re all important [wins],” Spiker said. “It doesn’t matter the location.”

The CAA picture is now super-tight. UNCW and Charleston sit atop with 10-3 records, just a game ahead of Drexel and Towson. Delaware (8-5), Hofstra (8-5), Monmouth (7-6) and Stony Brook (7-6) are all within three games of the lead as well, making it more than half the league with a chance to earn a top-four spot at the CAA tournament next month in Washington D.C. 

Drexel, picked No. 3 in the CAA’s preseason poll, needs a top-four finish in the regular season to get a spot in the CAA quarterfinals on March 10. Doing so and avoiding the second round would also prevent them from having to win four games in four days to win the program’s first CAA title since the COVID-shortened 2021.

Sixth man Jamie Bergens led the way for the Dragons with 16 points, with Amari Williams and Lucas Monroe adding 14 each. Williams, Drexel’s British big man and preseason CAA MVP, surpassed 1,000 points on the evening, adding six rebounds.

Drexel had to withstand a monster 34-point, six-rebound effort from Tyler Thomas, whose game-tying attempt at the buzzer was blocked by Williams. 

Early on, things didn’t look so good for Drexel. With the Pride rushing out to an early 13-point advantage, the Dragons continually hung tough against the Hofstra attack and battled through lulls to keep the gap at 10 by halftime.

While it was apparent Drexel struggled to slow Hofstra’s offense, for Spiker, the halftime message was a simple one.

“We knew we were capable of better,” he said. “Hofstra is capable of about 59-60 points in a half, so that’s what had me not sleeping last night, that they can come in here and light the nets on fire. But our defense, that’s got to be why we win this [game].”

And in the second half, it paid off with the Dragons honing in on the defensive end as the Hofstra offense effectively went cold. The Pride, who made 68% of their shots (17-of-25) in the first half, were just 9-of-25 (36%) in the second half; neither team turned it over much, with both teams in single digits. 

“This team is super resilient and we never give up,” Bergens said. “It’s always tough, we get in some tough situations like we did at Monmouth a couple weeks ago down [double-digits] so we’ve done this before.”

With the Dragons coming out of the halftime locker room firing and forcing an early 9-2 run, Drexel had its first lead of the contest by the under-12 timeout sparking a back-and-forth stretch run. 

Drexel eventually thrust out to an eight point advantage but struggled to put the Pride away with a couple missed free throws and turnovers. Sophomore guard Justin Moore put the Dragons ahead 79-77, splitting a pair at the charity tripe with nine seconds remaining, before Thomas’ final missed triple.

“Even though we had a tough road swing, it clicked all around tonight so we still believe we can do a lot of things,” Bergens said. “We never stopped believing in ourselves, even after a tough road stretch we just never gave up.”

“We did enough,” Spiker said. “We weren’t perfect and had a couple possessions that probably aren’t going into the art museum across the bridge, but I really like the resolve from our guys.”

It won’t be long before Drexel faces Hofstra again, the two meeting just a week later in Long Island. Before that, the Dragons will host Campbell on Saturday; Delaware (at Delaware), Stony Brook (at Drexel) and Northeastern (at Drexel) are all that remain in the regular season.

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