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January 11, 2013
Even With Dragons' Struggles, Drexel Game Big For JMU
HARRISONBURG â" A big preseason favorite to win the Colonial Athletic Association, Drexel has lost twice as often as it has won this year and barely resembles the team most observers expected to cut down the nets in Richmond this March.
Nevertheless, for a James Madison basketball team starving to be considered a league contender, todayâs game against the visiting Dragons is huge. Even though Drexel has under-performed, point guard Devon Moore and the Dukes expect a grind against the rugged Dragons.
âItâs a war, man. Itâs a war. Itâs a war,â Moore said. âThey play hard â" theyâre one of the hardest teams in the conference. Itâs a big game for us to make a statement. We want to be a top tier team in this conference, and show that we can play with the best.â
Even pre-war, the attrition has already begun. The Dukes (8-8 overall, 2-1 in the CAA) will be without senior forward Andrey Semenov (sprained ankle) and freshman guard Charles Cooke (broken wrist). Freshman guard Andre Nation, who said he injured his left shoulder in Wednesdayâs 78-50 win over North Carolina-Wilmington but couldnât pinpoint when it happened, rested his arm in a sling during practice Friday afternoon.
Nation, who will receive an MRI next week, said he will still play today, but coach Matt Brady wasnât so certain.
âIâd say not probable but possible,â said Brady.
Drexel (5-10, 1-2) has its own injuries to key players, and it goes beyond the season-ending broken ankle that ace sixth man Chris Fouch suffered in November.
Sophomore guard Damion Lee, the reigning CAA Rookie of the Year and a preseason all-conference first-team pick this year, missed the Dragonsâ 63-58 overtime loss to Northeastern on Tuesday with a bone bruise in his right knee. Lee, who leads the team with 18.1 points per game, appears questionable for todayâs game on national cable television (NBC Sports Network).
Drexel coach Bruiser Flint told KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia that Leeâs status is âuncertain. Doesnât look good.â Flint also said that Daryl McCoy, a burly senior forward known for his defense and rebounding, will likely be out with a foot injury.
The Dukes said they are preparing as if both Lee and McCoy will play.
Whether those two starters are active or not, JMU is expecting the same tough-minded Dragons who won both meetings last season.
âAs much as any team in the league, you recognize what youâre getting with Bruiserâs teams,â Brady said. âYouâre getting high-level defense, great rebounding, physical play. And to win a game, youâve got to fight to the bitter end and youâve got to make plays on both ends.â
Drexel allowed a league-low 56.1 points per game last season en route to a CAA regular-season title and 19-game winning streak. This year, the Dragons are yielding an average of 66.2 points â" mediocre given the low-possession nature of their games.
The drop-off is odd, because Drexel did not lose any standout defensive players. Flint believes his teamâs struggling offense is the main culprit for the defensive regression.
âWe throw the ball away way too much,â Flint said. âNot only do we throw the ball away, we throw it away for baskets. Thatâs killed us all season. People look at our defensive numbers and say, âYour defensive numbers arenât very good. Youâre usually a pretty good defensive team.â But we donât give ourselves a chance to play defense at times. Weâve thrown the ball to teams, and theyâre catching it and going to get layups. Thatâs been our Achilles heel all season.â
Drexel has turned it over on 18 percent of its possessions. That might bode well for JMU, which leads the league with a plus-2.25 turnover margin. The Dukesâ 12.5 turnovers per game are the fewest in the league, while Madison forces 15 per game â" second most.
JMUâs full-court press has been effective at home this year, but the depleted Dukes might not want to stretch their defense given their newfound dearth of depth. Plus, the majority of Drexelâs turnovers havenât been caused by opposing defenses using traps, so much as the Dragonsâ ball-handlers making, as Flint called them, âunforced errors.â
Junior point guard Frantz Massenat was the runner-up for CAA Player of the Year last season and the preseason pick to win the award this year, but he hasnât shown the same type of command as in 2011-12. The 6-foot-4 Massenat has committed four or more turnovers in seven games, and has 11 giveaways in the last two. His shooting is down to 40 percent.
âHeâs forcing things a little bit,â Flint said. âI just told him, âLook man, youâre the preseason Player of the Year for a reason. You had an unbelievable year last year, but last year you understood, let me just do my job.â And thatâs what weâre asking him to do. Weâre asking him to just do his job.â
The Dragons opened CAA play with a 77-60 win at Georgia State on Jan. 2, before losing tight home games to Towson and Northeastern. For all its struggles, Drexel is 3-1 in true road games this year.
âNames change every year, seemingly, but his teams are in every game,â Brady said. âI said to our team, âWeâre going to have to play really, really well to win this game. Throw out the records and the numbers and whoeverâs playing for them. Brusierâs teams really fight.ââ
James Madison NEWS