RICHMOND, Va. -- By the time they made their first basket, they trailed by nine. By the time they made their second basket, the first half was half over. By the time Old Dominion found a way to make its sixth basket Sunday afternoon, the first half was just about over and the Monarchs trailed Drexel by double digits.
Defense. Its why Drexel is 27-5. Its why Drexel has won 19 straight games. Its why the Dragons mauled a 20-win Old Dominion team Sunday afternoon and advanced to the Colonial Athletic Association championship game.
Its why Drexel is 40 minutes from clinching an NCAA berth for the first time in 16 years.
Thats our bread and butter, freshman Damion Lee said. Thats what were known as, a defensive team. If we lock down on defense every game, we know everything else will take care of itself.
Everybody has bought into Brews strategy which is defense first. Thats Drexel basketball, and as long as we play Drexel basketball, I think were a pretty good team.
Brew is coach Bruiser Flint, and on Sunday, his Dragons continued their dream season, pounding Old Dominion, 68-51, in the CAA semifinals at Richmond Coliseum.
Drexel will face host school Virginia Commonwealth, whose campus is located about a mile away, at 7 p.m. Monday. VCU beat George Mason 74-64 after holding an early 32-4 lead in Sundays other semifinal.
Drexel has never won a CAA tournament. The Dragons lost to North Carolina-Wilmington in the 2003 final, the only previous time they got this far.
Defense fuels us, junior guard Chris Fouch said. It gets us going. Its like an energy builder. Once we get things going on defense, it makes it that much easier on offense. Because were executing and doing what we like to do. We all love to play defense because we know its what makes us go.
Drexel allows 56 points per game (sixth-best in Division 1), limits opponents to 38 percent from the field (eighth-best) and allows only 28 percent from three (third-best).
On Sunday, against an Old Dominion team that scored 88 points in a Saturday quarterfinal win over Delaware, Drexel was at its defensive best.
We just played Drexel basketball, sophomore guard Frantz Massenat said.
The Monarchs made just 10 field goals in the first 30 minutes, and by then Drexel was up 16, and the game was over.
Thats just how coach is, Massenat said. You can tell. Hes passionate about defense. He gets in everybodys face. Thats why we play defense. Because he doesnt let you take a play off.
Drexel beat North Carolina-Wilmington 59-47 on Saturday and on Sunday became the first team in tournament history to reach the championship game without allowing more than 51 points in the quarters or semis.
Even though the Monarchs picked things up in the final minutes, they finished just 33 percent from the field (19-for-57) and 17 percent from three (3-for-18). Drexels two victims so far in Richmond are shooting a combined 36-for-106 (34 percent) and 9-for-31 from three (29 percent).
Eight days earlier, Old Dominion scored 72 points against Drexel in a game the Dragons won in Norfolk by one point. ODU senior forward Kent Bazemore burned Drexel for 37 points that day on 12-for-23 shooting.
On Sunday, with Massenat guarding him most of the game, the CAAs fourth-leading scorer took 20 shots, made six, and was 0-for-5 from three for 12 uneventful points. He also committed six turnovers.
I just wanted to contest his shots, Massenat said. He had 37 against us last time, and I didnt want to let him have that many against me. All I tried to do was stay in front of him and contest him. Coach was telling me to wall up and use my length against him, and today he missed a couple shots that he made last week.
Flint knew slowing down Bazemore was the key for Drexel. Nobody else on ODU averages more than 11 per game, and on Sunday, nobody scored more than 12.
Our whole thing was, last game, I thought Bazemore turned the corner a little bit too easy, so we told our big men to just make him go a little bit farther around us, and we did a good job, Flint said. We just made him work. We made him work last week, he just made tough shots last week.
Drexel didnt shoot great -- 40 percent from the field, 35 percent from three. But when it defends like this, thats good enough.
Massenat led the Dragons with 20 points, four assists, four rebounds and 9-for-10 from the foul line. Lee made five of eight shots and three of four threes for 17 with six rebounds, Fouch had 16 points, and tireless pivot Samme Givens, Drexels only senior, battled his way to 12 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Our game plan was really to make Kent Bazemore take tough shots, Fouch said. We know how good a player he is. He went off on us last week and we just tried to prevent that as much as we can, and I think we did a pretty good job with that.
Drexel has not lost since Jan. 2, when the Dragons dropped a 58-44 decision to Georgia State in Atlanta. Drexel is 25-1 since Dec. 3. Old Dominion is now 20-13 after starting the season 7-8.
Were having fun right now, Massenat said. Our chemistry is great, on and off the court. Were having a good time playing, guys are hitting big shots, were all celebrating together, even our bench guys are into it. ... Our team is really at its high right now.
Maybe Drexels done enough to earn the fifth NCAA bid in school history. With one more win, the selection committee wont matter.
Were having a great season, Givens said. Now we just need to finish it off.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org