Drexel's D gives No. 4 Arizona scare in near upset

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Drexel's D gives No. 4 Arizona scare in near upset

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Bruiser Flint has established a national reputation as a defensive mastermind during his 13-year tenure at Drexel.

Wednesday night, that reputation held true as his team held Arizona, the sixth-best shooting team in the country, to just 20 points in the first 20 minutes.

But the best defensive effort No. 4 Arizona has faced all season still wasn’t good enough for Flint’s Dragons as they lost to the Wildcats, 66-62, in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off (see Instant Replay).

After the Wildcats were limited to just six made field goals in the first half, they came alive out of halftime and scored 46 points in the final 20 minutes, more than doubling their first half output.

Drexel guard Chris Fouch assumed the Wildcats had simply come out in the first half and underestimated their opponents.

“They must’ve come out there thinking we weren’t going to be that good, and so we kind of just punched them right in the face, and we wanted to keep it on," he said.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller, a longtime friend of Flint, made sure it was known that was not the case.

“I think the easy storyline in a game like this is to say maybe Arizona overlooked Drexel,” Miller said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth. We watched for five, six, seven days, whatever the length from our last game to tonight. We invested a lot of time watching them, and it became apparent to me that we were in for one heck of a battle.

“And keep in mind one of their starters, their frontcourt players and a real key to their team did not play tonight.”

Arizona didn’t overlook its opponent. The seismic halftime shift came from the single defensive flaw in Drexel’s armor: The Dragons’ big men have a penchant for getting in foul trouble.

Dartaye Ruffin, Drexel’s premier defender in the paint, picked up three fouls in the first half of the game, a crushing blow for the team’s interior defense. With junior forward Kazembe Abif already missing the game with a concussion, the paint opened up for the Wildcats when Flint decided to start the second half with Ruffin on the bench.

It showed. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski -- a career 7.7 points per game scorer -- dropped 13 of his career-high 15 points in the second half, going 7 for 12 on the night.

His offensive explosion in the final 20 minutes was the driving force behind Arizona’s comeback.

“We kind of came out flat in the first half and we wanted to come out strong in the second half,” Tarczewski said. “Our guards did a great job of getting me the ball. I know I missed a few easy ones early, but they kept getting me the ball and I really owe it to them.”

Flint was visibly irked after the game about the problems his team had keeping Ruffin on the floor.

“You know I want to play good D the whole game,” Flint said. “A big part of the game was Dartaye sat a lot in the second half. [Tarczewski] started making plays, and that was it right there. When [Ruffin] was in the game, it was a different game around the basket, but when he goes out, they hurt us a little bit.

“And not only that, because we’re helping with them, the other guys on the other side of the rim [beat us], too.”

Flint was right -- the entire Wildcats offense jumped on the Dragons’ defensive struggles in the second half. Point guard T.J. McConnell finished with 11 points, nine of which he scored in the second half. Senior guard Nick Johnson scored 12 of his team-high 20 points in the second half. And, of course, Tarczewski came alive.

Yet, the Drexel head coach said he still thought his team did a good job against Miller’s team defensively. In a way, he was right. His team held the Wildcats under 40 percent from the field for the first time all season. They dictated the style in their favor; that is, they made it a defense-oriented game.

Sometimes your best just isn’t enough. And then sometimes your best is in foul trouble.

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we payed y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood's Collin Gillespie, the Philadelphia Catholic League's MVP, has signed a national letter of intent to attend Villanova and play for Jay Wright.

Gillespie, during his senior year, averaged 24.1 points per game. The 6-foot-2 guard lead Archbishop Wood to their first Catholic League title in school history and followed that up with a PIAA State Championship game victory -- also a first for the school. Along with the league MVP, Gillespie was named Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News.

"We are excited to have Collin and his family join the Nova Nation," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "Collin comes from a great program at Archbishop Wood and has been well prepared by John Mosco. His guard skills, basketball IQ and winning instincts will be a welcome addition to our program."

Gillespie will join previously announced signees Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia) and Jermaine Samuels (Rivers School, Weston, Mass.) in Villanova's class of 2021.