What: Drexel Dragons (4-2) versus Cleveland State Vikings (4-3)
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Daskalakis Athletic Center
By KEVIN ROSSI
Before the Dragons beat Rutgers to head to Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tip-Off, June Fouch texted her sonChris Fouch, “Home is where the heart is.”
Fouch, who is from New York City, would return home to play two games at the Garden, a venue where he played a handful of times during his storied high school career. Drexel split their two games their falling by only four points to the No. 4 team in the country and eventual NIT Season Tip-Off champion Arizona Wildcats. The Dragons won the third place game in thrilling fashion in a game that took three overtimes to finally decide.
Now, the whole team returns home to Philadelphia where they will play their first home game of the season on Wednesday against Cleveland State.
The wait to play at the DAC leaves a tough beginning road for the Dragons. Two years ago when the team reeled off a 29-win season, they didn’t play a home game until Dec. 10. They were 2-4 going into that game.
There’s something about the DAC that Drexel relishes. Maybe it’s the 2,500-plus screaming fans, the front row of bleachers being within an arms-length of the court, or The White Stripes’ “Seven Nations Army” pumping through the speakers as the game is about to tip.
No matter what it may be, the Dragons have won 42 of their last 57 home games. And that mark is even including their eight home losses last season.
There may be one player who doesn’t want to come back home. Freshman forward Rodney Williams probably doesn’t want to leave Madison Square Garden after the showing he had in the NIT.
His numbers may not jump out to you on the stat sheet, but his presence was certainly felt. On Wednesday against No. 4 Arizona, he filled in for an injured Kaz Abif and had 10 rebounds in 35 minutes, doubling his previous season-high of minutes played. Against Alabama, Williams again started in place of Abif and recorded seven points on 3 for 4 shooting in 30 minutes.
He has also been able to provide something on defense that the Dragons have lacked: blocked shots. While in NYC, Williams recorded seven blocks in two games, nearly half of the team’s season total (17). He’s listed at 6-foot-7, but his wingspan plays much longer and clearly disrupts opponents on the interior.
“He’s only played in six games,” head coach Bruiser Flint said of Williams after the Alabama game. “He’s getting better every game, and I think this was big for him to go against Alabama, Arizona. That’s SEC, [PAC] 12, and he’s played well against those types of athletes.”
As the team continues to adjust to the new foul rules, Williams will continue steal minutes as the first big man off of Flint’s bench. Dartaye Ruffin found himself in foul trouble during both of the games at the Garden, forcing Williams to remain on the court.
The freshman made the most of it.
Williams may not want to leave Madison Square Garden, but returning to the DAC is a welcomed sight for the Dragons. They have owned their home-court over the past four years, and they look to continue that dominance on Wednesday against Cleveland State at 7 p.m.
-Scouting Drexel: Last game: 85-83 (3OT) win vs. Alabama. … Record at home: 0-0. … Junior Damion Lee is out for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. … The Dragons are +28 in scoring margin in the first half of games and -11 in the second half. … Chris Fouch leads the team and the City 6 averaging 19.5 points per game. … Drexel is only shooting 28.8 percent from 3-point range, but they are holding opponents to 24.7 percent. … Kaz Abif is averaging a near double-double with 8.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest. … Drexel has limited themselves to only 10 turnovers per game while they are forcing 12.3 on defense. … Frantz Massenat has a 2.33 assist-to-turnover ratio through six games.
-Scouting Cleveland State: Last game: 78-55 win vs. Ball State. … Record on the road: 1-3. … In their last game against Ball State, the Vikings shot 11 for 16 from 3-point range (68.8 percent). … Six-foot-3 sophomore guard Bryn Forbes leads the Vikings scoring attack at 19.3 points per game (48.8 percent from deep). … Cleveland State is getting outrebounded by nearly three rebounds per game. … The Vikings turn the ball over 13.4 times per game. … Trey Lewis leads the team in assists with about 3.6 per game.
-Prediction: Drexel will win their home opener by attacking the glass and slowing Cleveland State’s guard-oriented attack.
-Sound Off: How will the Dragons fair the rest of the way without Damion Lee?
-Kevin Rossi covers Drexel for Philahoops. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @kevin_rossi. Leave your comments below.