By Sean Kennedy
Arizona 66, Drexel 62
I was all ready to talk about what this game would mean for Drexel come March; an upset victory would be a huge boost for the team’s tournament resume, while a close loss would still look good in the eyes of the committee. But then, with 11 minutes left in the game, Damion Lee jump-stopped in the lane and his knee gave out awkwardly. It looked like Lee said he heard a pop, which could mean a serious tear that would threaten the rest of his season. All we know officially is that Lee has been ruled out for tomorrow’s game against Alabama. The results of the forthcoming MRI will have large consequences on the Dragons season.
As for the game, Drexel jumped out to a 24-6 lead thanks to some hot shooting from their trio of guards. With Kazembe Abif out with a concussion, the Dragons were at even more of a size disadvantage against the large Arizona front line. Drexel almost never got the ball into the post, solely utilizing a motion offense with dribble-handoffs along the perimeter. In fact, the team was a third of the way through the second half before someone other than Frantz Massenat, Chris Fouch, or Lee even scored.
That system worked during the early run as Massenat hit his first four shots, and Chris Fouch lit up the scoreboard. Fouch, who grew up in the Bronx, was playing in the Garden for the first time as a collegiate player, and finished with a game-high 29 points. However, eventually the hot shooting stopped and the Wildcats crawled back into the game, cutting the lead to 9 at the half.
That trend continued in the second half as Arizona was able to pound the ball into the paint, scoring easy buckets and earning trips to the charity stripe. The game was quickly tied three minutes into the second half, and the teams played back and forth up until Lee’s injury. From that point on, it was too big a task for Fouch and Massenat to carry the load alone. Arizona stretched the lead out to double digits and though the Dragons fought gamely until the end, the Wildcats prevailed.
1:00 PM: Villanova (4-0, 0-0 Big East) vs. USC (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12)
While those of us on the East Coast are freezing during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Wildcats are sitting pretty down in the Bahamas, as they kick off the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. In addition to today’s opponent, USC, the tournament features some premier programs in Kansas, Xavier, Iowa, and Tennessee. Villanova has played well to start the season, but they’ve yet to face the type of competition they’ll encounter on the island.
USC has struggled with their offensive efficiency thus far, but has made up for it by doing the dirty work on the glass, as they are 34th in the nation in that category. The Trojans are led by a pair of upperclassmen, with 6’5″ junior Byron Wesley leading the team in both points (19.8) and rebounds (8.8), and 7’2″ senior Omar Oraby not too far behind in each category. Oraby is also top-20 in the nation, averaging 3.6 blocks per game.
Clearly, this will be the stiffest test yet for the Wildcats, especially for Daniel Ochefu who will have to contend with Oraby down low. If Villanova’s guards are hitting their shots from the perimeter, they should take this contest, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see USC keep things close.
8:30 PM: Saint Joseph’s (2-1, 0-0 A-10) vs. LSU (3-1, 0-0 SEC) – ESPN2
In other holiday tournament action, the Hawks will open up against LSU in an Old Spice Classic bracket that also features Oklahoma State, Butler, and Memphis, among others. The Hawks have experienced a long lay-off since their close loss to Creighton nearly two weeks ago and it will be interesting to see if there’s any rust on their end as a result.
Both of these clubs have played good ball to start the year, with LSU’s only blemish a 2-point loss on the road against an underrated Massachusetts squad. The Tigers are first in the nation in both offensive and overall rebounding, so the Hawks will have to make a concerted effort on that end to keep LSU off the glass. Senior guard Andre Stringer leads the team in scoring at 18.3 ppg, shooting a respectable 39.4% from long distance. However, he won’t be a problem for the Hawks as much as 6’9″ Johnny O’Bryant III and 6’8″ Jordan Mickey. O’Bryant averages nearly 18 points and 12 rebounds and is an absolute brickhouse on the interior. Mickey is a long, rangy freshman who is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential while accruing 15 points and 10 rebounds per night.
LSU presents a difficult matchup for St. Joe’s, as they would with most teams. We saw the Hawks contain Creighton’s Doug McDermott with double teams, but the Tigers have a number of guys who can do damage in this game. The Hawks will battle but look for LSU to prevail in Orlando.