Back and forth they went. Drexel (1-1) and Niagara (0-1) went nearly shot-for-shot for 32 minutes. Neither team had a double-digit lead until freshman forward Mate Okros knocked down back-to-back threes, lifting the Dragons to their first win of the season, 72-64, at Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Trailing, 48-44, Drexel put together its best run late in the second half. Freshman forward T.J. Bickerstaff drove to the left side of the basket, converted a layup and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but junior-forward James Butler scored off an offensive rebound while drawing a foul for a three-point play.
On Niagara’s next possession, defensive pest Matey Juric, a sophomore guard, stole the ball and scored to give the Dragons the lead.
The game stayed close, but the Drexel kept their foot on the gas and never trailed again.
Butler’s relentlessness on the glass pushed the Dragons over the top. He had just eight points and four rebounds in the first half but finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
Camren Wynter paced the offense with 9 assists to go with his 7 points. Freshmen Bickerstaff and Okros combined for 21 points.
“I thought it started and ended with No. 51 for us,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said of Butler. “Maybe an unsung hero guy. Maybe isn’t celebrated enough by me, but very proud of him. His approach every day is why he has a day like today.”
Bickerstaff "has no problem being aggressive, and that’s a good thing,” Spiker said. “Both those guys [Bickerstaff and Okros] are on the balls of their feet and ready to make plays.”
“I think early in the first half I was struggling a little bit to find my flow, and I was sitting there at halftime, and I said, ‘We really have to snap out of this because we have to win this game,'” Butler said.
Drexel doesn’t have to rely solely on Wynter this season. The two freshman and a healthy Zach Walton, a senior guard, are helping take the pressure off the point guard, and Juric’s defense is bound to give opponents trouble.
The Dragons have several shooters, but they must find consistency. Okros and sophomore guard Coletrane Washington made five of the team’s eight threes. Juric and Wynter combined to make five of the six threes in the season opener against Temple. Through two games, the Dragons are shooting 29% from three-point range, but they shot 44% against Niagara.