Drexel head coach Zach Spiker wouldn’t make any excuses, but it was clear which team was playing its first game and which had already played before Pittsburgh and Drexel met at the Petersen Events Center.
Drexel’s offense was scoring well, but the defense wasn’t having the same success. Pittsburgh struggled against the zone defense in its opener versus St. Francis, but the Panthers were better prepared against Drexel.
The Panthers’ improvements showed early when they shot 64% in the first half. Their offense kept the Dragons in the game, but they couldn’t get enough stops. Pittsburgh (1-1) ended up with an 83-74 victory.
“We gave up too many layups,” Spiker said. “We didn’t have nearly enough resistance.”
Pittsburgh turned the ball over 24 times against St. Francis. That number was cut to 13 against Drexel (0-1), even though the Dragons played a similar zone defense. The Panthers constantly got the ball inside with strong drives leading to easy layups.
“We were not moving at the same speed they were moving to start the game,” Spiker said.
Drexel trailed, 46-34, at the half and the deficit got up to 16. Then, preseason first-team All-CAA selection Camren Wynter played to his billing. He scored 17 points in the second half to finish with a team-high 24. His back-to-back baskets and a T.J. Bickerstaff alley-oop cut the deficit to five with 7 minutes, 33 seconds remaining.
“I judge Cam in a different lens,” Spiker said. “I look at his leadership. I know he can score. I know he can pass. I know he can play those things. I thought he handled the adversity of [picking up] two fouls right away.”
A Panthers three-pointer after the alley-oop took away the Dragons’ momentum. It was one of Pitt’s five made threes. Pittsburgh shot 62% overall despite just 5-of-19 from deep.
Drexel’s shooting is one of its biggest strengths, but the threes didn’t fall on Saturday. The Dragons went 3-for-19 (15.8%) and shot 48.4% overall. Bickerstaff (19 points), Zach Walton (13), and James Butler (12) each scored double figures.
Bickerstaff’s performance was a bright spot. He shot 7-for-15 and added five rebounds. Most importantly, he only had two turnovers. The sophomore showed signs of growth with more patience and confidence than last season.
“I thought he was aggressive and assertive in the right ways,” Spiker said. “He did some good things. Let’s build on it and go from there.”
Freshmen Lamar Oden Jr., Amari Williams, and Xavier Bell debuted. Only Bell scored (two points), but each made an impact. Williams showed off his unique passing ability for a big man when he found Wynter on a cut during Drexel’s second-half run.
The bench, weakened by the absence of sharpshooter Coltrane Washington, scored just three points. Matey Juric had one of those points, but it was his defensive pressure (three steals) that flipped the script in the second half.
Washington was out with a lower leg injury. His pending return should add more offense.
“We’re hopeful to continue to evaluate his body, and hopefully we can get him back soon,” Spiker said.
Drexel’s next scheduled game is Wednesday at the Mohegan Sun Arena against Quinnipiac in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.