Drexel hoping to pull March stunner in CAA Tournament


Drexel hoping to pull March stunner in CAA Tournament

Finally, and perhaps mercifully, the end of Bruiser Flint’s worst season as a college basketball coach is within sight.

But even as the frustration has built with every one of his team’s 24 losses, the longtime Drexel head man isn’t ready for it to end yet.

And, as always, he’s hoping his team can perhaps find a little March magic when the Colonial Athletic Association tournament begins tonight with ninth-seeded Drexel facing eighth-seeded Elon in the opening round at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena (6 p.m.).

“The tournament always gives you a chance,” Flint said from his office this week before departing for Baltimore. “That’s one of the things you can always talk about. But in the end, it’s up to the kids. Do y’all want the season to end or do you want to try to continue on? This gives you another chance to do the things you want to do. … A team like ours, who’s had a tough year, you know what, come on man, this is our chance to sorta make history.”

It would certainly be historic if the Dragons were to win the CAA tournament, not only because they’ve never before accomplished such a feat but also because that would mean they’d earn more wins in four days (four) than they’ve had in league play all season (three).

But it’s not completely unrealistic to think Drexel (5-24 overall, 3-15 CAA) could at least go on a run, considering the fact that two of those wins have come in the last 13 days as the Dragons are finally playing better basketball.

Of course, after those two wins, the Dragons closed the regular season with a familiar result, blowing a late 11-point lead in a home loss to Northeastern. According to Flint, losing close games and poor shooting -- the team ranks 335 out of 346 Division I teams in field-goal percentage -- have been problems he just hasn’t been able to figure out.

“That’s hard, man,” Flint said of his team’s 39 percent field-goal percentage, which was even lower before a recent stretch of better offensive performances. “I just think all you’ve got to do is look at the shooting statistics. That’s the bottom line. We won a couple of games at the end of the season because we shot it better. That’s it.”

Tavon Allen is a big reason for Drexel’s improved play, as he's averaging 19.3 points per game over the last four contests after scoring a combined 13 points in the three games before that. On top of the scoring, Flint said the senior swingman has been “more engaged in what we’re doing on both ends of the floor,” which he hopes will continue in the conference tourney.

Allen’s defense will be especially important against an Elon team that beat Drexel twice this season, scoring more than 80 points in both games -- the only conference team to do that against the Dragons.

“We’ve got to stay connected to them,” Allen said of the Phoenix, which averages 9.3 made three-pointers per game. “You can’t give them any type of space or they’re letting it fly.”

Allen, the Dragons’ leading scorer, is naturally excited for the fresh slate that a conference tournament provides, with the league’s automatic NCAA tournament berth going to the winner no matter how poor their regular season. But that’s still not going to make him forget all the hardships the team has endured in 2015-16, including an 11-game losing streak in conference play when it seemed nothing could go right.

“A lot of people were looking at other people like, ‘What’s going on with us? What can we do to fix it?’” Allen said. “It’s just been a struggle all year. But we’ve been trying to stay positive and keep everyone on the same page. Hopefully we can get some wins.”

Drexel isn’t the first team, of course, to struggle through a dismal season. But it still hit the players and Flint hard because they didn’t expect it. In 15 years as head coach, Flint had only had four losing seasons before this one. And this will be the first time he’s gone through back-to-back losing seasons -- an especially tough pill to swallow because it came on the heels of a 2013-14 campaign in which he felt he assembled his most talented team ever only for to see it derailed by injuries.

Flint said the program “hasn’t been the same since” as injuries and bad luck, including star Damion Lee transferring to Louisville last year, have mounted amid questions about the coach’s job security.

“This is unchartered territory for me a little bit,” Flint said. “But you gotta keep on plugging, keep grinding."

Flint is 244-216 as head coach at Drexel, but his Dragons teams have never reached the NCAA Tournament. The closest Drexel has come to making the tournament was when the 2011-2012 CAA regular-season championship team was snubbed after falling to VCU in the conference tournament final.

But since that season, the Dragons have gone 45-75 under Flint's watch.

“Nobody’s come to me and said anything,” he said about the possibility of being fired. “I’ll just keep working until someone says to me, ‘Yo man, you’re not the coach there no more.’ Nobody’s come to me and told me my job’s in jeopardy or anything like that. So every day I try to win some games, keep coming to practice, keep trying to work.”

A deep run in the conference tourney might certainly help Flint make the case that the program is headed in the right direction. And if the Dragons can knock off Elon, they’ll have a big opportunity to upset top-seeded Hofstra in the quarterfinals.

From there, could they win another game to get to the finals? And another game after that to go to the big dance for the first time in Flint’s tenure?

The odds are extremely long but it is March, so why not dream?

“That would be crazy,” Allen said. “We’d have the whole world in shock. But that’s what we’re going for. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Best of CFB: Mayfield with 3 TDs as No. 5 Sooners top No. 2 Ohio State

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Best of CFB: Mayfield with 3 TDs as No. 5 Sooners top No. 2 Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Baker Mayfield threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns as No. 5 Oklahoma pulled ahead in the second half to knock off No. 2 Ohio State 31-16 on Saturday night to give first-year head coach Lincoln Riley an early signature victory.

Mayfield lived up to his billing as a Heisman Trophy candidate in shifting the Sooners (2-0) into overdrive and piling up the yards in the second half as the Buckeyes' offense sputtered. Oklahoma took its first lead of the game near the end of the third quarter and cruised in the fourth (see full recap)

No. 15 Georgia outslugs No. 24 Notre Dame, 20-19
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Georgia got to Dawg Walk out of Notre Dame Stadium with a victory, dozens of its fans forming a line from the locker room to the buses to congratulate the Bulldogs after their first trip to this part of the country in more than 50 years.

Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy led a swarming Georgia defense and the No. 15 Bulldogs got enough plays from an offense starting a freshman quarterback to beat No. 24 Notre Dame 20-19 on Saturday night (see full recap).

The Bryants lead No. 3 Tigers to 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson's new starting quarterback had an easy way for the third-ranked Tigers to keep winning the next several years - recruit more Bryants.

Kelly Bryant, Clemson's first-year starter, ran for two touchdowns after a scary hit knocked him to the ground and defensive end Austin Bryant had four of the Tigers' 11 sacks in a 14-6 victory over No. 13 Auburn on Saturday night.

"The Bryant guys were pretty good," said Kelly, who's not related to Austin. "We've got to keep it going."

If they do, the defending champion Tigers (2-0) might be playing in their third straight title game (see full recap).

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford 42-24 for 11th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett caught two touchdown passes apiece from Sam Darnold, and No. 6 Southern California extended its winning streak to 11 games with a bruising 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford on Saturday night.

Darnold went 21 of 26 with 316 yards passing for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who snapped their three-game losing streak in this California private-school rivalry. USC racked up 623 total yards and won the first Pac-12 game of the new season by beating the hard-nosed Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) at their own physical game (see full recap).

Villanova at Temple: The return of the Mayor's Cup

Villanova at Temple: The return of the Mayor's Cup

FCS No. 6 Villanova (1-0, 0-0 CAA) at Temple (0-1, 0-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3

The rivalry between Temple and Villanova moves from the hardwood back outside to the gridiron on Saturday afternoon as the Owls and the Wildcats will play for the Mayor’s Cup for the first time in five seasons.

Temple heads into the matchup reeling after a thorough 49-16 defeat at Notre Dame last week in new head coach Geoff Collins’ debut, a game that saw the Owls get handled in every facet by the Fighting Irish.

Villanova, now No. 6 in the FCS rankings, comes into the contest at 1-0 after a hard-fought 38-35 victory at Lehigh in the first game of the post-Andy Talley era.

To get you ready for Saturday’s matchup, reporter Greg Paone and contributor Dave Zeitlin break down all you need to know about the Owls and the Wildcats.

Scouting Temple
The Owls still have plenty of questions after last week’s shellacking at Notre Dame, but one huge one was answered in the form of a starting QB as redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi emerged victorious from the summer’s four-horse race for the starting crown. Marchi, who entered the game with only two career completions on six attempts, had some early jitters but settled in as he went 19 for 35 with two TD passes. He’ll look to keep the confidence growing and take another step forward against the Wildcats. Sophomore WR Isaiah Wright is a player to keep an eye on when the Owls’ offense is on the field. A versatile weapon who can line up all over the field, he made an impact last week when the ball was in his hands with four grabs for a team-high 78 yards. Junior tailback Ryquell Armstead toted the rock 19 times for 68 yards. Look for the Owls to feed him and attempt to get him more involved on Saturday.

To call Temple’s rushing defense last week porous would be doing it an injustice. The Owls were gashed for 422 yards on the ground by the Irish, who had three players with over 100 yards on the ground. Tailback Josh Adams had a game-high 161 yards, while fellow RB Dexter Williams had 124 yards and QB Brandon Wimbush had 106 yards of his own. The Irish had five rushing TDs on the day. Temple held Notre Dame’s passing attack in check, though, as the Irish had only 184 yards and a single score through the air. Redshirt junior safety Delvon Randall led the way with 11 total tackles for the Owls. - Paone

Scouting Villanova
As always, the Wildcats will be a power in the Colonial Athletic Association, arguably the best conference in the FCS, as well as on the national FCS scene. The Wildcats ascended to the No. 6 ranking after opening their season with a 38-35 win over Lehigh in Mark Ferrante’s first game as head coach. Ferrante, a longtime Villanova assistant, took over for Talley, who retired after 32 years on the job.

In the win, Villanova was led by quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as he looks to come into his own in his third year starting under center. Senior running back Matt Gudzak, who shares carries with Aaron Forbes, ran for a career-high 142 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Ryan Bell and big-play receiver Taurus Phillips combined for 175 receiving yards. Defensively, Villanova is paced by preseason All-American safety Rob Rolle and senior linebacker Ed Shockley, the latter of whom had a career-high 14 tackles (13 solo) in the opener. - Zeitlin

The Wildcats hold a 16-15-2 all-time advantage over the Owls in a series that dates back to 1928.

Temple has won the last three meetings, the most recent of which was a 41-10 decision on Aug. 31, 2012. In those last three meetings, the Owls have outscored the ‘Cats by a 114-41 margin.

Villanova’s last victory came in 2009 when the ‘Cats stunned the Owls, 27-24. The Wildcats are 3-18 all time against FCS foes and two of those three wins have come at the expense of the Owls (2003, 2009).

Storylines to watch
Temple: If one’s a coincidence, is two a trend with the rushing defense?

As noted above, the Owls were absolutely gashed by the Fighting Irish last week to the tune of 422 rushing yards, the most Temple has given up to a non-option team in the last nine years. Not pretty at all, obviously, but Notre Dame is a different animal that features some of the best talent in the nation.

Still, defensive coordinator Taver Johnson’s group needs to rebound against the Wildcats before other teams start to get the book on the Owls’ weaknesses. Especially before AAC play begins in two weeks with a trip to conference darling South Florida.

But just because Villanova is an FCS squad doesn’t mean that will be an easy task for Temple as the Wildcats feature a formidable duo at tailback in Gudzak and Forbes. - Paone

Villanova: Defensive litmus test

After surrendering five touchdowns vs. Lehigh, it’s clear the ’Cats have some work to do to try to match the level of their FCS-leading defense from a year ago. But can they pick up the pace against an FBS opponent that has the kind of offensive weapons they’re not used to seeing? One interesting thing to watch will be to see if their two defensive stars and captains — Shockley and Rolle — can show they belong. Both are from South Jersey and know a lot of guys on Temple, and Rolle in particular is motivated by the Owls passing on him during the recruiting process (see story). - Zeitlin

What’s at stake?
Temple: Pressure of the dreaded 0-2 hole

The last thing Collins and the Owls need as they gear up for conference play in a couple weeks is the added pressure that comes with falling in an 0-2 hole. If they lose Saturday to Villanova the questions will come in a fast and furious manner. That can be an issue for a young team and its new head coach, both of which are trying to smooth out the bumps that come with a new starting QB and replacing seven starters on defense. It’s way too early to call this a “must-win” for Temple, but it will be a long week at 10th and Diamond Streets if the Owls drop this one. - Paone

Villanova: FBS spotlight

A loss would do little to damage the Wildcats’ playoff hopes, but a win over the Owls on Saturday afternoon may give them the kind of national attention they don’t usually get at the FCS level. - Zeitlin

Paone: Villanova is very good team and the Owls will have egg on their faces if they think any differently just because the ‘Cats play at the FCS level. But a focused Temple team comes to the Linc on Saturday with just too much firepower in hand for Villanova to handle.

Temple 31, Villanova 20

Zeitlin: Villanova may be able to keep it close as it has vs. FCS programs in the past. But, in the end, the talent and depth differences will be too much to overcome.

Temple 35, Villanova 24