By Sean Kennedy
Drexel 56, Charleston 45
In the final home game for what head coach Bruiser Flint called the best group of seniors he’s ever had, no one in attendance was surprised when the Dragons’ senior backcourt stepped up yet again to ensure it ended in victory. Locked in another low-scoring battle with the defensive-minded Cougars, Drexel finally broke the game open with an 11-0 run in the early part of the 2nd half. Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat accounted for 7 of the 11 points during that run, with that pair and fellow senior Dartaye Ruffin recorded Drexel’s final 11 points on the night to close out the win.
Massenat was the offensive star on the night, with a game-high 24 points, buoyed by an 11-12 night at the charity stripe. Fouch was less effective with 11 points on 3-10 shooting, but did contribute 4 steals and hit his lone three of the night in the closing minutes when Charleston was threatening to get back into the game, down just 4 points. The victory means the last regular season game for the Dragons is meaningless as far as conference standing is concerned, as Drexel is now locked into the 4th seed in the upcoming CAA tournament. With all the injuries the Dragons have been forced to deal with this season, that is a mark those seniors and the team as a whole should be proud to have reached.
La Salle 75, St. Bonaventure 67
The Explorers left things in doubt for nearly 38 minutes, but a 9-0 run by La Salle in the closing minutes allowed them to take the lead and pull away from the Bonnies to end their 5-game losing streak. Tyreek Duren sparked that run with 6 points in the final minutes, as part of his game-high 18 points. Fellow Explorer Jerrell Wright also dropped 18 on the night as those two continue to do their best to carry what has been for the most part a struggling La Salle offense. However, there were no struggles on that end on Wednesday, as the team shot 56% and 7-13 from behind the arc, a good thing has they needed nearly every one for the victory.
With upcoming games against teams below them in the standings in Fordham and George Mason, La Salle could conceivably use this game to propel them back into the middle of the pack in the Atlantic 10. After all, they have much of the same talent as the team that made the magical tournament run a season ago. Hopefully, the strong shooting performance in this game portends better things to come in the upcoming weeks for the Explorers.
Villanova 67, Butler 48
Facing a plummeting Bulldogs squad, it was another sluggish effort from the Wildcats, who didn’t reach 10 points until there were 10 minutes remaining in the first half. However, they eventually got their act together and cruised to an easy victory against last-place Butler. Villanova held the Bulldogs to just 30% shooting and 4-19 from behind the arc, and a 20-6 run toward the end of the first half was enough for the Main Line squad with its opposition putting up those type of numbers.
With the Wildcats celebrating senior night, it wasn’t the most dominating performance by Villanova’s most prominent senior James Bell, as he led the team in scoring but with just 11 points on 3-10 shooting. However, I’m sure all he really cared about was that it resulted in yet another victory for a Villanova team looking improve their positioning for an NCAA tournament run. The win also ensured the Wildcats remained undefeated at the Pavilion this season, with one final contest there taking place this weekend against Marquette.
9:00 PM: Temple (7-19, 2-12 AAC) @ Louisville (23-4, 12-2 AAC) – ESPN2
Temple’s tortuous stretch of games agaisnt ranked opponents finally concludes Thursday night when they take on a hard-charging Louisville team. Rick Pitno’s squad is currently on a 6-game winning streak, fresh off a 1-point victory in Cincinnati which earned them some sweet revenge for one of their 2 conference losses on the season. The Cardinals are looking to solidify their place as a 2-seed in next month’s Big Dance, if not move up even further in the rankings.
Montrezl Harrell was the star in the Cardinals’ easy victory over Temple earlier this month, collecting 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks. The sophomore forward also put up a 20-10 game last weekend against the Bearcats and looks to be assuming a larger role in the Louisville offense. Of course, senior guard Russ Smith is still the engine of the Cardinals attack, as he leads the team in scoring (17.5) and assists (4.5). Smith has reined in some of his wilder tendencies in his senior season, with his resulting efficiency numbers shooting up as a result (46% FG, 37% 3PT). He’s currently projected to be drafted in the middle of the second round and leading Louisville on another long tournament run can only help his draft stock. Temple actually did a pretty good job taking care of the ball in the teams’ first meeting against a Cardinals team third in the nation in steals. The fact that they were still blown out, and now have to face Louisville on their home court (at the horribly-named KFC Yum! center), does not bode well for the Owls in this matchup.