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Team Profile: 2007 BracketBuster Recap: Drexel 64, Creighton 58

by Rick Dimon | February 17th, 2007

As expected, this one came down to whose big man could stay out of foul trouble and remain on the court for the longest period of time. Neither one could, but Drexel’s Frank Elegar watched his supporting cast keep the Dragons in the game in the first half, while Creighton’s Anthony Tolliver watched helplessly as it all came apart at the seams for the Bluejays late in the game.To say this was a tale of two halves would be an understatement. Drexel’s second half of basketball, however, was even more dominant than Creighton’s first, as the Dragons captured a huge 64-58 road victory. The nation’s road kings now have a Division I-best 12 wins away from home.

Immediately following the opening tip, Drexel (20-7, 11-5 CAA) looked flustered by the big stage of the nationally-televised BracketBuster contest. A raucous Creighton crowd, coupled with a tenacious man-to-man Bluejay defense, unraveled the visiting Dragons in the early going. Before the first media timeout, Drexel turned the ball over four times and committed a silly foul of Creighton’s Nate Funk behind the three-point line (he made all three free throws).

Perimeter shooting has been Drexel’s Achilles’ heel throughout the season, and the Dragons did nothing to reverse that trend in the first 20 minutes of play. None of the guards stepped up with any kind of outside shooting to stretch the Creighton defense. As a result, the Bluejays swarmed the paint and relegated Drexel center Frank Elegar and forward Chaz Crawford to almost nonexistent presences.

The biggest problem in the first half for the visitors, however, was foul trouble. While the Dragons committed several ill-advised fouls early on, Creighton’s aggressive play and consistent hammering down low forced the defense to foul rather than give up easy buckets. Elegar picked up two quick ones and coach Bruiser Flint left his big man on the bench for the last 12 minutes of the half.

Creighton (18-9, 12-4 MVC) and center Tolliver figured to have their way with Drexel down low in the absence of Elegar, a defensive terror. But the Dragons’ interior defense, led by Crawford, continued to thwart the Bluejay offense by blocking shots and altering countless others.

That’s what kept Drexel in the game in what was an otherwise-atrocious first half for the Dragons. While their offense could do nothing right, the Creighton offensive attack did not find the going much easier. A twenty-minute defensive struggle left Drexel trailing just 26-20 at the half.

Although the Bluejays sprinted out of the gates yet again to seize an 11-point advantage, the tide soon turned. When Tolliver picked up his third foul two minutes into the second frame, the floodgates opened. Now Elegar, still with only two fouls having sat for so much of the first half, had free reign in the paint on the both ends of the floor.

The Dragons, who had played out-of-control throughout the first half, slowed down the pace on offense and found instant success. With Tolliver out, feeding Elegar and Crawford down low was like stealing candy from a baby. While Creighton managed to cling to a slim lead by speeding up the tempo when they had the ball, leading to scores in transition, the momentum was slowly slipping away.

When Tolliver came back in the game at the 12-minute media timeout and almost immediately committed his fourth foul, the Bluejays found themselves in serious trouble.

The signature sequence of the game came with eight minutes remaining. Elegar skied to emphatically reject an ill-fated Creighton shot, then sprinted down the court and authoritatively slammed home a dunk off of a missed Drexel layup.

In a nutshell, that’s what the Creighton faithful had to sit through for the entire second half. Even when Tolliver reentered the game at the 8:00 timeout, he could not play aggressively with four fouls and Elegar continued to dominate.

Dominick Mejia also provided Drexel with a huge second-half spark. The senior shooting guard found his touch and poured in big bucket after big bucket late in the game. A three-pointer that extended the Dragons’ lead to 51-44 capped an impressive surge by the visitors and really broke the game open. Mejia and Elegar combined for a dominant 32 points in the second-half.

The Dragons tried to let Creighton back in the game by missing four of five free throws under two minutes. The refs also did the home team a late favor by calling an unnecessary technical foul on coach Flint. Drexel’s head man had been screaming at one of his players for forking up a shot when the Dragons were trying to run the clock, but a nearby official thought the choice words were being spewed in his direction.

None of this, however, was enough to help the Bluejays overcome the late deficit. On the strength of a crowd-silencing 20-3 run in the second half, the Drexel Dragons escaped Omaha with an impressive 64-58 victory.

–Rick Dimon

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