March 9, 2021 –
The Drexel Dragons won their first Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Championship in program history, and with that get an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Drexel entered the conference tournament as the number -six seed. They leave as tournament champions defeating the #8 Phoenix of Elon 63 – 56 in the final. The Dragons return to the big dance for the first time in 25 years when they were champions of the America East Conference. And they do so with a team win.
“I think the great thing about our team is anybody can explode on any night,” said Drexel guard Camren Wynter. “Anybody can pitch in. We have a lot of talented players who do their job. Everybody did a little something to help win today. That was the key for us.”
Along the way Drexel defeated the College of Charleston, Northeastern, and Elon. The core leader group was Wynter, who was named the Tournament MVP, and James Butler who was also named to the All-Tournament team. But the team was able to accomplish winning by getting contributions from everyone.
“When you win rarely are you going to lean on one or two guys,” said Drexel Coach Zach Spiker. “We developed our depth. I don’t think the guys who got double figures tonight were the guys you anticipated being in double figures a month ago. I wasn’t surprised. That score doesn’t show enough of our team effort.”
In the final the players who were on the floor scored, or got a rebound, an assist, or a steal. As Wynter said a little something from everybody. Mate Okros had a team-high 14 points and Xavier Bell at 11 points scored in double figures. Butler and Tim Perry, Jr. pulled down a game-high 9 rebounds. Wynter handed out 4 assists.
Over the course of these past three games it could be Butler, Wynter, Zach Walton, Okros, Bell, Matey Juric, or T.J. Bickerstaff, everfyone who helped in the winning effort. And the players who worked in practice but did not play, and coaches, all had a hand in the title, and can share in the celebration.
“I’m really happy for our players and our coaching staff,” said Drexel Coach Zach Spiker. “It was the character of our players that put us in this situation.”
The championship game was going to be a grind. The toughest and most disciplined would come out on top. The start was choppy, then the three-point shots began to fall for the Dragons. Okros drained 3 of 4 in the opening 20 minutes. Drexel made 6 of 11 from deep compared to 1 for 8 by Elon. But it was a big three at the halftime buzzer that gave the Dragons confidence and a 32 – 27 halftime lead.
“Anytime you see a shot fall it gives you a bit of confidence for the next one you put up,” said Dragons guard Zach Walton. “I know when I see one fall makes me want to keep it going and look for the next shot.”
Drexel tried to pull away in the second half, and went ahead by 54 – 44 on an Okros bucket from beyond the arc with just under six and a half minutes to play. Elon fought back to get to within 57 – 53 with one minute left. Drexel put the game away at the foul line as Okros sank two and Juric four to put the game away.
Elon, playing its fourth game in four days, got a game-high 19 points from Hunter McIntosh and 16 from Ikenna Ndugba had 16. Both players were named to the All-Tournament team.
The three-point line was the differential. This was a strength of The Phoenix, but in the game went 4 of 19. A testament to the Dragons three-point defense. Meanwhile, Drexel made 10 of 17.
“Defensively, to hold that team. They took thirty two three pointers last night, thirty two,” Spiker said. “We held them to nineteen, and you think about the guts of the game, it was closer to sixteen.”
The draught is over for the Dragons. They are in the NCAA Tournament. The last time that happened was in 1996 when Drexel defeated 5th seeded Memphis 75 – 63 before losing to Syracuse, the 4 seed. Leading that team was Malik Rose who had 21 points in the upset of Memphis. All five starters broke double-figures in the game. That team showed a sense of balance, too.
Written By: Glenn Papazian