By AARON COLEMAN
After another triple-overtime thriller (somebody should get the Elias Sports Bureau to figure out when was the last time that happened in Division I basketball), the Drexel Dragons kicked off their 2013-14 home campaign with a gritty 85-82 victory over a sharpshooting Cleveland State Vikings squad that had gone blow for blow with powerhouse Kentucky just one week ago.
Missing star guard Damion Lee (who had his season ended with a torn ACL in the NIT Season Tip-Off last week), fellow CAA First-Team preseason selection Frantz Massenat rose to the occasion with 21 points, nine assists, and six rebounds while surging senior big man Dartaye Ruffin recorded his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 14 rebounds after 54 minutes.
After giving the Dragons a shaky 79-78 lead following a lay-up with 2:52 to go in the final overtime period, Massenat sealed the win after ripping a tough rebound away from CSU star Bryn Forbes following a Marlin Mason missed jumper. Massenat then threw a beautiful outlet pass down the court to a streaking Tavon Allen (who added a cool 23 points with 16 coming in the final three periods), who slammed it home and ignited a raucous DAC crowd. Drexel kept the lead the rest of the way and escaped with another huge victory.
When asked on how big a win this was, Massenat told reporters: “They’re a great team. They are balanced. To grind them out like this was big for us.”
However, the game did not look to be headed for a close finish as the Vikings struggled mightily in the first half, shooting just 36 percent from the field and 1 of 9 from deep despite coming off of a 7 of 11 performance from deep in their previous game, a win over Ball State. Leading scorer Forbes scored just two points in the initial half and missed all three attempts from deep as the Dragons closed the Vikings out on a 15-5 run to lead 30-20 at the half.
It all changed in the second though as CSU erupted for six threes and 70 percent shooting overall. Forbes awoke with a vengeance, scoring 21 points after the first half with three triples to boot. Forward Jon Harris also added 27 points off of the bench with 25 coming after the first half (he shot a scorching 4 of 7 from deep). Trailing 58-57 with eight seconds to go in the game, CSU guard Trey Lewis (who finished with 15 points and eight assists) got to the line and tied the game after making 1 of 2 free throws. Massenat missed a potential game-winning jumper to send it into OT.
When asked about his squad’s defensive effort in the second half, Drexel coach Bruiser Flint declared, “Awful. They made tough shots in the second half but our tagging was horrendous.”
Drexel seemed headed for the W in the first OT after an Allen three made it 65-59 with 2:05 to go, but CSU once again battled back and Forbes continued his intense play with an ice-cold contested 3-pointer with 25 seconds on the clock that sent it into a second overtime following another failed Massenat buzzer beater.
CSU grabbed a quick four-point lead in the second overtime period following two Lewis free throws but a layup from freshman Rodney Williams (who finished with seven points and three boards and played extensive late minutes after starter Kaz Abif fouled out earlier in the period) and a free throw from Allen cut the lead back to just one. With 21 seconds to go, Massenat forced his way to the line again and made 1 of 2 free throws to tie it up at 72 (Drexel left a lot of points at the charity stripe, shooting just 24 of 33). A Forbes Hail Mary three-point attempt failed at the horn and sent the game into triple overtime where Drexel eventually triumphed.
Flint was satisfied with his squad’s performance overall but admitted there was room for improvement in his post-game presser and that he wants no sympathy for his players. Flint said, “They aren’t going to stop the games because of three overtimes. It is what it is. We put ourselves in this situation. Damion is not coming back. We won two games without him and hopefully we win more.”
While the Dragons will certainly be tired following consecutive triple-overtime games, they showed a lot of heart and mental toughness by fending off a strong Cleveland State team. In years past, Drexel may have folded after blowing a late lead but after Frantz Massenat and Co.’s gutsy performance Wednesday night, those days may be fully in the past.
-Up next: Drexel improves to 5-2 on the season and will welcome the Tennessee State Tigers to the DAC Saturday afternoon for a 4 p.m. showdown.
-Aaron Coleman covers Drexel for Philahoops. Reach him at [email protected], @shutupcole on Twitter, or leave a comment below.