DREXEL'S MISSION vs. Saint Francis (Pa.) was to bounce back from its disheartening, 20-point loss at Saint Joseph's last Wednesday.
In a game closer than it should have been, Drexel (8-3) topped Saint Francis, 59-49, in a nonconference game yesterday at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
With 1:08 remaining, the Red Flash was within six points. Since Saint Francis (2-9) sank eight three-pointers in the game, it was two quick long-distance field goals from tying it up.
Then Drexel closed out the scoring on two free throws each by freshman forward Mohamed Bah (his only points of the game) with 46.9 seconds left and leading scorer Chris Fouch with 34.9 seconds to go.
"I thought they outplayed us, they played tough," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "I don't know the correct adjective to put on the game, maybe lackluster. We knew Dominique Major [game-high 16 points] would shoot three-point shots. We said, 'Don't leave him.' We did that for a few minutes.
"In practice we said, 'Keep them off the three-point line and be aggressive to the basket.' We didn't play like that for 35 of the 40 minutes. The 5 minutes we did, we got the lead up. We wanted them to drive because of our size advantage. We thought they would struggle to score [inside]."
Drexel held a commanding 39-26 rebounding advantage. The Dragons limited Saint Francis to 35.8 percent shooting from the field.
Flint, in his 13th season as Drexel's coach, has learned that the holidays are a difficult time to keep players focused on basketball.
"A couple of our guys had their bags packed," he said. "Some are still kids; they want to spend 3 days with their families."
Which is fine with Flint. "I like to send my guys home for Christmas," he said. "But it's unfortunate for the coaches."
With junior guard Damion Lee (13 points per game) sidelined for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Drexel is looking for more scoring support for Fouch (17.7 ppg entering the game), Frantz Massenet (15.9) and Tavon Allen (13.1), especially from the interior.
Fouch paced Drexel yesterday with 15 points with Massenet adding 13, including several key baskets off penetration when the Red Flash crept close.
Forwards Dartaye Ruffin, Kazembe Abif and Rodney Williams contributed some key points for the Dragons. Ruffin, a senior, and Abif, a junior, each scored twice from the field to open the second half. Abif led Drexel with 11 rebounds. Williams, a 6-7 freshman, had all six of his points, on 3-for-3 shooting, in the first half.
"We always thought Rodney could score," Flint said. "It's a matter of him developing the confidence to do it at this level. He did a good job rebounding and blocking shots."
Said Williams: "I'm learning a lot. Dartaye is showing me the ropes. It was a rough transition at first: I wasn't used to the physicality and the speed."
Williams, from Richmond, Va., said the Dragons wanted to hurry back into the win column because the loss to Saint Joseph's "was a smack in the face to us."
Drexel only trailed 4-0 at the start. Saint Francis tied it at 22 with 4:35 remaining in the first half. Drexel's biggest lead was 11 points midway in the second half. After trimming Drexel's lead to five with 10:21 to go, the Red Flash went without a field goal for almost 7 minutes.
Drexel shot 45.8 percent from the field. The Dragons, winners of five of their last six games, made only two of nine three-point attempts (22.2 percent).
Earl Brown, a 6-6 junior forward from Imhotep Charter, began the game as the Red Flash's leading scorer (12.5 ppg). He tallied nine points vs. Drexel while leading the Northeast Conference team in rebounding with seven.
Drexel is off until it hosts Buffalo at 2 p.m. Sunday.