Tramaine Isabell (above, in Dec.) capped off a 40-point night with a 10-0 personal run to lead Drexel to a win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)
Thursday night took Drexel guard Tramaine Isabell back to seventh grade.
Isabell, at the time playing AAU ball for Seattle Rotary, remembers a game where he dropped 56 points, the most he’s ever scored.
“It was a fun game,” the Emerald City native recalled. “I think I took every shot, though...I like to joke about it with the director at Rotary because that’s the Seattle Rotary record. We’ve had a lot of pros, so that’s the one thing that I have my niche at Seattle Rotary with.”
Flash forward to January 25, 2018 in Philadelphia and Isabell found a similar groove against Elon.
The Missouri transfer rode his hot hand to a (collegiate) career-high 40 points, willing Drexel to an 83-79 home victory over the Phoenix.
Isabell went 14-for-23 from the field and 7-for-11 from 3-point range, even knocking down a couple of treys from easily beyond NBA range, to become the first Drexel player to drop 40 in a game since Michael Anderson did it all the way back in 1988.
He was feeling it.
“I just lined ‘em up and they went in,” Isabell said. “I tried to take it slow and not be too aggressive, but after a couple jump shots fell in, I just kept attacking.”
No stretch was bigger than the 10 unanswered he scored late in the second, flipping a 72-67 deficit into a 77-72 lead with less than a minute and a half to go.
Out of a timeout by Dragons coach Zach Spiker, Isabell launched one from next to the scorer’s table with the shot clock winding down. Swish. 72-70.
After splitting a pair of free throws the following possession, Isabell fired up another from NBA range. Swish again. 74-72. A trio of free throws later and it was 77-72.
“I put a lot of time in my jumper and I have confidence in it,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to take those shots but in practice they’ve gone in and I’ve proved that I can shoot them so in the game I just felt comfortable and I had already made a couple so I felt, in the rhythm of it, they would go in.”
“Certainly we want to play to the hot hand and trust that he’s going to make good decisions,” Spiker added. “To get that number, sometimes you’d maybe take a couple tough ones. I don’t think too many of them were tough, maybe two or three and you get it going, but I thought they were in the flow of what’s going on and a couple of them that he hit, we needed them.”
Isabell’s 10-0 burst was enough to hold off the Phoenix, as the Dragons knocked down their free throws over the final minute to secure the W. It’s just the second conference win of the season for Drexel (8-14, 2-7), which has struggled so far in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Dragons came into Thursday with five straight losses, having lost by just two at James Madison five days prior and losing by more than 20 twice in the five-game skid.
A victory over Elon is a step in the right direction, and Drexel hopes it can give the team momentum heading into the next two games of its three-game home stand, versus Northeastern and JMU (again).
“You want to win them all, you want to be greedy, you want to grab as many as you can, and I think we’re all pretty sick to our stomach to have one slip away down in Harrisonburg the other day, and some others as well, quite frankly,” Spiker said. “Hopefully we’re playing better basketball as we get deeper into the season, because that’s the goal with our conference.”
Drexel trailed by as many as 10 in the first half against Elon and led for only four of the 40 minutes, but came through at the end.
“After a skid, conference games, tough ones like we just lost by 2 to James Madison, you never know how you or your teammates are going to react, so I’m so happy that we got down 10 and just plowed through and didn’t give up and got a win at home,” Isabell said.
This wasn’t the first big night Isabell has had in his lone season with Drexel -- he dropped a then-career-high 35 against Rider in December and leads the team at 19.8 ppg.
However, he hasn’t been the only Drexel player to show explosive scoring potential. Kurk Lee has racked up five 20-point games this year; Sammy Mojica has twice reached a career-high 22; Alihan Demir is averaging 11.9 ppg as a first-year player.
Thursday night was just Isabell’s night, and the entire team rallied around to get him to grind out a key result.
“You want to create for him. We all know what’s going on. I give a lot of guys on the team credit though because I think we recognized it,” Spiker said. “A lot of guys contributed in a lot of ways, certainly a large number of our points came to [Isabell], but as he will tell you and as we all know, it’s never one guy. Basketball is a team game and our guys fought hard.”
“It makes it easier when Kurk Lee’s getting to the elbow, making those guys suck in, it’s easy to line that jumper up because the guy’s not really closing out at you, he’s closing out to the side of you, so I just lined ‘em up and they went in.”
“My guys were finding me,” Isabell added. “Guys were just making that extra pass because Elon really watched, they really just clogged the middle, so you just made the extra pass and you got an easy shot and I just took advantage of it.”
Lee and Mojica each had four assists for the Dragons and the team posted just six giveaways, putting together a very solid group effort on offense.
Though they each had their offensive struggles -- Lee was 1-for-10 and Mojica was 2-for-6 -- another night it will be them with the hot hand, as the trend has been all year. Another guy who has that potential was Troy Harper, who for the second straight game had 14 points on eight field goal attempts.
“Tonight it was ‘Maine, we’ve got other guys that have that ability. Kurk Lee’s had huge nights, Sammy’s been hot before. I think you recognize it and you give some options, just read it and play and react,” Spiker said. “We’ve had a lot of guys with career highs so I think we’ve got a handful of guys, that what makes us dangerous.”
Spiker hopes the team can be that dangerous as the rest of the season rolls around, as Drexel has a lot of work to do in order to escape the bottom of the CAA.
Thursday was certainly a good start.
“Win or lose, I think we made progress today. Win or lose, it’s a team effort, and we’re very happy to get the W, and now we’ve got to move on to Northeastern,” he said. “I think our best basketball is way ahead of us.”