What: Drexel (2-5) at Tennessee State (3-5)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Gentry Center
The ghosts of Samme Givens and Chris Fouch are looming over the Drexel Dragons so far this season.
Although everybody in the Drexel locker room will deny it to the very end, it’s true. The proof is on the court. The proof is in the numbers. The proof is in coach Bruiser Flint’s indirect allusions to these ghosts before and after Saturday’s game against Rider.
“Chris has always been a guy who hasn’t played a lot of games at times,” Flint began in what seemed to be an attempt to deflect the question of whether Fouch’s presence has been missed.
Flint continued on, but his tune began to change. He said, “The thing about him is he had great experience. He’s a kid that scored the ball and made shots for us. I mean he was gonna be one of the all-time leading scorers at the school. Now you replace him with someone that hasn’t really played a lot.”
The inexperience of the Dragons’ on-court product is clear. Sophomore Kaz Abif has played an average of 21.3 minutes per game this season even though last year as a freshman he averaged only 5.9 minutes per game in 20 games and missed the second half of the season due to illness. Junior Goran Pantovic was forced to play 18 minutes on Saturday against Rider, matching his entire season total from last year. Freshman Tavon Allen, who has now moved into Fouch’s sixth man position off the bench, is averaging almost twenty minutes a game.
Flint spoke of the struggle to adjust with Fouch out when he said, “He was a kid that made big plays for us. Now you replace him with somebody that hasn’t really done it and that’s the adjustment. Those guys got to get in the game and start playing a little bit, which they have been. We’ve just got to get a little bit more comfortable out there.”
Fouch’s injury was a huge blow to the Dragons, who had obviously expected him to be a big contributor and leader in his senior season. The Givens issue is the more perplexing of the two since Drexel had an entire offseason to prepare for his graduation.
Givens’ absence has been felt in both the scoring and rebounding department. Dartaye Ruffin has stepped into Givens’ starting spot and averaged 8.7 points per game, not exactly matching Givens’ 11.6 points per game last season. To make matters worse, Daryl McCoy’s scoring is down as well down to 2.7 points per game this year from 4.3 points per game last year.
Prior to the Rider game Flint said, “I’m not worried about scoring points with our big guys.”
After the game Saturday where Ruffin, McCoy, Abif, and Pantovic combined to score 10 points, Flint changed his tune on the matter. When asked if the lack of scoring from his big men is a concern, he said, “Yeah, it concerns me because I think we can. It is what it is. It’s one of those things that we need to improve on.”
The ghosts of Givens and Fouch are rearing their ugly heads in the early going for the Dragons. Two of their leaders are gone and they are struggling to adjust. Flint knows this and its implications. He candidly said, “We just have periods in the game where we are absolutely awful and it becomes a closer game than it should be.”
The Drexel Dragons will try to bounce back and start to string some wins together on Tuesday when they travel to Nashville, Tenn. to take on Tennessee State at 7 p.m.
Scouting Drexel: After an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.25 last season, Frantz Massenat’s assist-to-turnover ratio has dropped to 1.18 this season. … After missing two games with a neck injury, Damion Lee has averaged 21.0 points over the last three games. … Drexel is averaging 13.9 turnovers per game while forcing opponents into 12.3 turnovers per game. … The Dragons’ 2-5 start is their worst start since 2008-09 when they finished the season 15-14.
-Scouting Tennessee State: Senior forward Robert Covington leads the Tigers’ scoring charge at 16.5 points per game, including 27 points against Alabama A&M on Saturday. … Senior forward Kelley Thornton rounds out a dynamic presence inside for the Tigers scoring at a rate of 15.0 points per game. … Led by Covington and Thornton, Tennessee State averages 39.0 rebounds per game including 13.8 offensive rebounds per game. … The Tigers have currently won two straight games.
-Sound Off: Will the Drexel forwards be able to handle the Tennessee State forwards?
Based on what Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy have shown so far this season, I’m not so sure that they will be able to handle the likes of Robert Covington and Kelley Thornton. Ruffin and McCoy have faced seemingly never-ending foul trouble this year. Against Rider, Ruffin picked up two fouls within the first three minutes of the game, while McCoy picked up his second six minutes in. The foul trouble forced Bruiser Flint to play Kaz Abif and Goran Pantovic at the same time, something that will not go over well against a team with strong frontcourt play.
Not only are Covington and Thornton Tennessee State’s biggest scoring threats, they are also their top rebounders. The Dragons have struggled as a team in the rebounding department. Placing this Drexel weakness against this Tennessee State strength could spell doom for the Dragons. If Drexel wants to win the game on Tuesday and improve to 3-5, they’ll have to keep Ruffin and McCoy on the floor and out of foul trouble. If they cannot do so, the Dragons may be facing another loss in a winnable nonconference matchup.