March 8, 2021 –
The Drexel Dragons will play for the Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball championship. The sixth seeded Dragons made it to the final defeating the #2 seed Northeastern Huskies 74 – 67, and meet the Phoenix of Elon, seeded 8th, for the title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. An opportunity most desired.
“It feels great,” said Drexel guard Camren Wynter. “One thing I came here for was to get a conference championship. We’re one game away.”
Drexel played for the CAA Championship twice, the last one being in 2012.
The Dragons took an early lead and appeared to be in control. With 8:43 to play Drexel held a 53 – 44 lead. But this is tournament time where nothing is easy. Northeastern mounted a charge and cut the lead to 53 – 52 with just under six and a half minutes to play. Drexel needed to meet the challenge and got it in the form of back-to-back three-point baskets by Mate Okros and another three-ball by James Butler to cap a 9 – 2 run giving them a 62 – 54 lead with just under 4 minutes on the clock. That gave the Dragons the needed lift.
“I thought we needed to get one more shooter on the floor when they went zone,” said Drexel Coach Zach Spiker. “We were able to get clean looks. Mate Okros is a hunter. It doesn’t matter how many minutes he plays or not, he comes in locked, loaded, and ready to go. Those were big shots.”
The basket by Butler put him over the 1,000 career-points plateau.
Drexel closed out the game making 10 consecutive free throws.
Different players have been performing well in key spots for the Dragons. It fuels a sense of belief for the squad. Anyone can perform when needed.
“That’s the great thing about our team is that we have a lot of guys who can make big plays,” Wynter said. “We don’t have to give one guy the ball. There are a lot of different play calls for different people, and they can all make plays. It makes us tough to guard.”
Wynter filled the stat sheet with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in 36 minutes. Zach Walton had a team-high 15 points. Butler added 12 and 12 for his 32nd career double-double, 6th this season. Xavier Bell scored 11 points. T.J. Bickerstaff pulled down 11 caroms for his collegiate-best.
Jahmyl Telfort scored a game-high 30 points making 11 of 21 from the floor for Northeastern. He made 4 of 6 from three-point land. Tyson Walker added 23 points shooting 10 of 25. Only four other Huskies scored. The Bostonians were short-handed, but game. Eventually, they could not overcome the three straight Dragons buckets from beyond the arc.
“We needed one more stop,” said Northeastern Coach Bill Coen. “Then Butler hit that buzzer-beater three. They got separation, and once you get that opportunity to take the lead, you have to capitalize on them.”
Drexel and Elon tipoff at 7 for the title. It is the first time an 8 seed will play for the conference crown. Drexel will have three games in three days while Elon will go in its fourth game in four days. No matter who wins, it will be the 9th different CAA Champion in the last 11 years. Spiker says his team will keep their heads down and keep going, ready to play.
“Be prepared for what for what I think is clearly the hottest team in our conference right now,” Spiker said.
Written By: Glenn Papazian