Drexel's backcourt proves it's among nation's best in close loss to Zona

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

The extent of Damion Lee's injury could determine Drexel's standing in the CAA. (USATSI)
The extent of Damion Lee's injury could determine Drexel's standing in the CAA. (USATSI)

NEW YORK -- In a game where Drexel's trio of guards -- junior Damion Lee and seniors Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat -- were collectively as good as ever, it was Lee who unfortunately couldn't even limp off the court following a knee injury with less than 11 minutes remaining.

The extent of the damage on Lee's knee remains unknown, but Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said after the game, "They (team doctors) didn't think anything was structurally wrong with it."

Massenat said Lee was putting pressure on the knee in the locker room afterward. Flint couldn't confirm the full nature of Lee's injury, however.

"That would be a, just a real shame if he wasn't (healthy)," Arizona coach sean Miller said of any possible long-term injury to Lee. "I know Chris Fouch has gone through injuries, and what Bruiser's done at Drexel is just amazing."

Drexel should hope Lee will be OK, because if/when he is healthy, this is really one of the nation's elite backcourts. And because of that, Drexel has its best chance at reaching the NCAA tournament, which it hasn't ever done on Flint's 13 years at the school and overall since 1996.

If you're asking, "Really, Drexel?" I'm telling you, it's so. After tonight, the aforementioned troika is averaging close to 45 points, and I'd take them over Arizona's guards now -- and Zona's got a pretty good thing going on. Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, in the NIT semifinals, Drexel ended up falling to the No. 4 Wildcats 66-62, but overall it was Drexel's biggest and best game of the season so far. Through 30 minutes the Dragons looked like slayers. They opened up on the Wildcats with a 27-8 lead in the first half, out-hustling, out-shooting and outplaying Zona in basically every facet.

"It's the best backcourt that we've played," Arizona shooting guard Nick Johnson said. "They're so free, they attack, their offense is centered around their guards coming off screens. ... They're confident in what they do and they can do it really well."

Flint told me afterward he thinks this group this year is the most talented, the deepest he's ever had. Tavon Allen is the fourth guard/first option off the bench, and the Dragons can use the four-guard look when they want. It's a dynamic, fun team. These guys aren't afraid of anyone, either. Philly players.

The starting trio combined for 52 of Drexel's 62 points in the Dragons' loss, Fouch leading the way with 29. It's Fouch's sixth year of eligibility; he missed most of last season after breaking his ankle. It took until 12:10 was remaining -- in the second half -- for a Dragon without the last name Massenat, Fouch or Lee to score for Drexel.

You could say that's not a good thing, and you'd be right, but know that forward Kazembe Abif missed Wednesday's game due to a concussion. When Drexel was cruising and looking like it would whoop Arizona, it was because the guards were putting on a clinic. With the team hampered on the front line, Lee, Fouch and Massenat came up in a big way. That's a really good sign for a team looking to win the CAA for the second time in three years. Drexel only turned it over five times while facing Arizona's pressure.

"I learned that we're not going to back down from anybody," Fouch said. "We felt we let one get away from us today. ... They must have come out thinking that we might not be that good, but we punched them right in [their] face."

Miller said that anyone who thought his team might've overlooked Drexel in anticipation for a Duke-Arizona dream NIT final: "That's the furthest thing from the truth."

At the half, Arizona was 6 for 23 from the field, had 10 turnovers and didn't sink a 3. It used a 25-6 second-half run to seize tempo and ultimately work its way toward the victory.

If Lee does have significant damage to his knee, it will unquestionably change the outlook for Drexel, but because of the talent and depth, it doesn't mean this team still can't make a run. Flint's waited 13 years for a chance like this.

 
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