The Flying Dutchmen’s 75-64 win over Drexel Wednesday night (I decided to make up for the tardiness of this post by mentioning the score earlier than ever before!) was not the biggest conference win recorded this week in the CAA. That honor goes to our good friends at George Mason, who stormed back from a 15-point second half deficit Tuesday to stun VCU and basically seal the top three seeds in the tournament for Northeastern, Old Dominion and Mason.
Nor were the Dutchmen the biggest beneficiary of this week’s results. William & Mary, which would have been alone in sixth place at 9-5 had VCU held on and Drexel defeated the Dutchmen, is now tied for fourth place and the all-important final first-round bye.
Nor, even, was the Dutchmen’s win the biggest upset in a season in which the top six teams in the CAA have dominated the bottom six to the tune of a 43-5 record. Georgia State shocked Mason Feb. 3 while Drexel was knocked off by Delaware during Reboot Saturday Jan. 2.
But the Dutchmen weren’t concerned how the win compared to any other posted this week or this season in the conference. All that really mattered Wednesday was finally beating one of the top six teams in the conference (against whom the Dutchmen were 0-8) and finally posting the Signature Win that had eluded the program all season—one the Dutchmen desperately needed in order to have any legitimate hope of making a surprise run in the CAA Tournament three weekends from now.
“I don’t know if it’s a relief—I’m excited for the kids, I think they needed to break through in a game like this,” Tom Pecora said afterward. “We were in so many close games with the teams in the top. We battled at Old Dominion. We had Mason in a tie game with a minute to go down there. And then we had William & Mary beaten at home. But the thing is you still didn’t find a way to close out and win the game.
“And that’s what I wanted them to learn how to do. Tonight we were lucky enough we built up a big enough margin to be able to do that.”
All the elements the Dutchmen need to make noise in the CAA Tournament were in place Wednesday. Four days after Pecora said Charles Jenkins had to take 20 shots a game for the Dutchmen to win, Jenkins scored 32 points on 26 shots. He took more shots in the first half Wednesday (16) than he did in the entire game against Northeastern last Saturday (11).
Chaz Williams once again flirted with the first triple-double in school history (20 points, nine assists, eight rebounds), played a nearly flawless game at the point (one turnover) and continually broke the Drexel press in the second half.
Williams also keyed the defining surge in the final five minutes of the first half, first by hitting a 3-pointer in transition that gave the Dutchmen the lead 18-16 and then by driving three-quarters of the court, hitting a layup and drawing a foul as time expired to end the half to extend the Dutchmen’s lead to 35-27. The momentum of Williams’ Danny Ainge-esque drive and old fashioned 3-point play continued to fuel the Dutchmen in the second half as they went on a 20-8 run to extend the lead to 20 points with a little more than 14 minutes to play.
The Dutchmen played with the type of aggressiveness often lacking this season at the Arena as they recorded season-highs in free throw attempts (38), rebounds (53) and offensive rebounds (23). Greg Washington had 12 rebounds (and his five blocks allowed him to break both his own single-season record of 68 and David Taylor’s career record of 178) while Halil Kanacevic added 10 boards.
Defensively, the Dutchmen produced perhaps their most suffocating effort of the conference season in limiting Drexel to 31 percent shooting from the floor and forcing the Dragons into a 1-for-9 effort from 3-point land. The Dutchmen also held Towson to 31 percent shooting Jan. 6, but the performance against Drexel was even more impressive considering the Dragons shot 48 percent overall and 7-of-18 from the 3-point line in routing the Dutchmen in Philadelphia Jan. 19.
“As a coach you try to motivate the troops [and say] ‘If we can dominate them defensively, we’ll win the game,’” Pecora said. “That’s true every game. I thought our defensive effort was good and they got a lot of offensive rebounds.”
Most importantly, the Dutchmen were resilient, surviving in both halves the type of ice-cold stretches that have doomed them in previous potential Signature Wins. The Dutchmen endured a 2-for-18 funk in the first half, during which their 10-2 lead turned into a 16-15 deficit, and went 0-for-7 during an 11-minute stretch in the second half as the Dragons whittled a 20-point deficit down to nine.
“First thing I talked to them about was we got a little sloppy late, that wasn’t a good thing,” Pecora said. “We’ve got to execute right down to the end.”
It wasn’t a perfect victory for the Dutchmen, but it was their most impressive one since beating Old Dominion 60-51 exactly 365 days earlier. “Now we’ve won four of five,” Pecora said. “If we can finish out the season doing the same type of things down the stretch, we’ll go into the tournament with a little momentum.”
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Drexel, 2/10)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Chaz Williams
1: Greg Washington
Charles Jenkins 49
Chaz Williams 26
Miklos Szabo 20
Halil Kanacevic 20
Nathaniel Lester 18
Greg Washington 13
Cornelius Vines 9
Yves Jules 1