DREXEL WAS trying to do something it had never done before, which is beat Saint Joseph's in consecutive meetings. And the Dragons were also trying to win on Hawk Hill for the first time since 1978.
Last season, the Dragons won by a dozen in West Philly, which gave them four wins in the last seven in this series. And they did so mostly by pounding the Hawks off the boards.
Last night at Hagen Arena was different. The Hawks, who have no seniors, and really only one junior of note, don't look to be anywhere near the same group that lost 22 times a year ago. And the Dragons, who were picked to win the Colonial Athletic Association, aren't whole yet. The result was a 62-49 St. Joe's win that was punctuated by a program-record 16 blocks, including a career-high-tying nine from sophomore C.J. Aiken, and eight dunks, many of the alley-oop variety. And it seemed like even more.
"When you have that presence in the lane, it's kind of extraordinary," said St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli, whose team will take a 5-2 record into Sunday's trip to American. "You can just see the look on the other team's faces. It's really a challenge. And when you throw it over the top, people might say it's only two points, but it's worth more than that. We made some spectacular plays. It's November. We'll take the win. But we have a lot of work to do."
At this point, so does everybody else. The Dragons (2-3) at least got junior guard Chris Fouch, their leading returning scorer (14.9 average) back from a left knee injury. He played 15 minutes off the bench but predictably finished with five points on 2-for-10 shooting (1-for-5 from the arc).
"His first day on the court was Monday," said coach Bruiser Flint, the former Hawk. "That's where he's at. I think I played him more than the doctors wanted tonight. He'll be fine. I'm not worried about him."
The old Hawk record for swats was 12, set in December 1987 by Rodney Blake - all by himself - against Cleveland State.
"Toward the end, someone yelled out for me to try and get one more," said the 6-9, 220-pound Aiken, who also had a team-high 13 points. "But it was too late.
"They just kept coming in, and I just kept blocking them. I'm used to that. I'm not a big, big man, but I think I'm used to playing against big people. I just don't want nobody to score. It just makes me want to play hard. It's something I look forward to during a game. I feed off it a lot."
Martelli said Aiken is simply more comfortable this season, after coming in as the Pennsylvania Player of the Year from Plymouth-Whitemarsh High.
"Now he's enjoying himself," Martelli explained. "I've watched him grow up since he was in the ninth grade. And there were times when it was a task, a chore, to play basketball.
"He's having a good time. I think that C.J. feels balanced on this team. He doesn't have to play to anybody's expectations. Last year, he was just a kid playing college basketball. And there's more he can do."
Drexel led by two after 11 1/2 minutes. By halftime, the Hawks were up, 30-19, as the Dragons managed one free throw the rest of the way. Drexel came back out of the locker room and started with a 5-0 run, but the Hawks again answered, with a 7-zip spurt, and it was never under double digits after that.
Three other Hawks scored 11 or 12. One of them was Carl Jones, who averages just over 21 but went 3-for-11. Another was Langston Galloway, who's a little over 16. But forward Halil Kanacevic, the soph transfer from Hofstra, was the guy with the dozen, which is seven more than his norm. He also had a team-best eight rebounds as the Hawks stayed almost even on the glass.
The Dragons, who were held to 35 in a loss to Virginia 11 days earlier, got 14 from Damion Lee. And eight of those came in the final 3 minutes, when his team was scoring 13 that didn't really mean much. Nobody else had more than eight. But Samme Givens, in 26 foul-plagued minutes, managed just six on 12 shots. He averages double that. And Frantz Massenat, the top scorer at 16.5, finished with four on nine. The Dragons couldn't take advantage of 18 offensive boards.
"We shot 31 percent," Flint noted. "We killed ourselves at big parts of the game. We missed some easy ones, even before [Aiken] really went on a binge. It has an effect. Guys aren't looking to go in there."