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Drexel is going to the men’s NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years

Drexel defeated Elon Tuesday to win the CAA title game. The Dragons will learn their seed and opponent during Sunday’s selection show.

Drexel celebrates with the trophy after beating Elon in the CAA tournament championship game.
Drexel celebrates with the trophy after beating Elon in the CAA tournament championship game.Read moreDaniel Lin / AP

Magical things happen in March. Whether it was a 26-foot three-pointer from Zach Walton before the halftime buzzer or the surprising emergence of key role players, it felt like Drexel’s time.

Now the Dragons can knock the dust off their dancing shoes. Drexel is going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996 after defeating Elon, 63-56, on Tuesday in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game in Harrisonburg, Va.

“This is a moment you dream of as a kid,” Walton said. “From the beginning of the season we set a goal out to go to the CAA championship and win it and end up in the NCAA Tournament.”

Bookend three-pointers at the end of the first half and start of the second half extended Drexel’s lead to eight points at 35-27. This came after a first half where both teams led for more than six minutes. Drexel’s lead grew as large as 10, and the Phoenix (10-9) couldn’t get any closer than five.

Drexel’s (11-7) story of March has been its unsung heroes. Camren Wynter and James Butler are All-CAA players. Even though Walton (8 points, 6 rebounds) wasn’t all-league, coaches around the CAA are aware of the offensive streaks he can go on. Even T.J. Bickerstaff was no longer a secret after a breakout sophomore year.

But Mate Okros, Xavier Bell, and Tim Perry Jr. each got critical minutes during the run. Okros led the Dragons with 14 points. He started coming off the bench for the first time in his career four games ago. All he’s done is go 12-for-17 from three since the change. His replacement, Bell, who scored 11 points, had one double-digit scoring game entering the tournament. He just did it in back-to-back games. Perry (6 points) gave the offense a jolt with his four offensive rebounds during a four-minute first-half stretch.

All of a sudden, Drexel’s depth concern was a strength. Each Dragon that played scored. Okros’ 14 points were team-high, but seven players scored between 6 and 14.

Wynter (8 points) was named the CAA tournament MVP. Walton and Butler were also named to the All-CAA tournament team.

“It could’ve been anybody on our team,” Wynter said. “A lot of people came up in the clutch.”

Containing the red-hot Phoenix from three-point land was a focal point, and it was a big reason why Drexel won. Elon made 33 three-pointers in its first three tournament games. The Dragons held them to 4-for-19 in the title game.

Drexel’s had success in spurts, dating to when it won the Boardwalk Battle in-season tournament last season. The goal always stayed the same. Coach Zach Spiker deflects questions about long-term success and Wynter reminds reporters that he hasn’t accomplished the ultimate after every individual milestone.

Now, Spiker can speak on Drexel’s growth. Wynter has accomplished his No. 1 goal.

“You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control the circumstances,” Spiker said. “[The championship] validates what we tell our guys.”

“It means everything,” Wynter said. “Every day I walked in the gym, I looked up at that CAA championship banner, and I always wanted to put one right next to that one. I’m just speechless.”