When the Drexel University men’s basketball team fell behind by 34 points to the University of Delaware on Thursday night, the players and coach Zach Spiker were not thinking about winning the game.
“My mindset,” junior guard Tramaine Isabell said Friday, “was to try not to lose by 50.”
That didn’t happen. History did.
The Dragons, trailing, 53-19, with about two-and-a-half minutes to play in the first half, went on to outscore visiting Delaware, 56-27, in the second half and win the game, 85-83. It was the biggest comeback ever recorded by an NCAA Division I men’s team, and most of the 1,116 fans who watched the game at the Daskalakis Athletic Center probably felt like Isabell’s mother, Aiyana Brown.
“I was so nervous,” said Brown, who had traveled from the family home in Seattle to attend the game. “They got down 12 points, then eight, and then I started thinking, ‘They can win this game.’ ”
The second-biggest comeback was back in 1950 when Duke beat Tulane after trailing by 32 points.
After Delaware missed a desperation three-point shot to end the game on Thursday, the Drexel players were too stunned — and elated — to celebrate.
A day after setting an NCAA record by overcoming a 34-point deficit in an 85-83 win over Delaware, we visited with @DrexelMBB to take the pulse of a team in the national spotlight pic.twitter.com/Kz9R3rU4un
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) February 24, 2018
“I don’t think it immediately hit us as the buzzer sounded,” senior guard Sammy Mojica said. “When we got in the locker room it really sunk in, and we went crazy, throwing water on each other.”
Soon after and through Friday, Mojica, his teammates and the coaches were busy with their phones.
“My phone has been blowing up like crazy, with everybody congratulating me and telling me how crazy it is,” Mojica said.
Former NBA star Brandon Roy, who is from Seattle, sent congratulations to Isabell, and Spiker, the head coach, spent Thursday night chatting up his team and the game on ESPN. Spiker did more interviews on TV and radio on Friday as the players had a light practice on the same court on which they entered the record book.
“It was a historic night,” Spiker said. And he was glad to talk about his Dragons to anyone who asked. The game was not on TV, but word of the record-setting comeback spread quickly on social media.
“We have a responsibility to promote our brand and polish our brand when you get a chance to,” Spiker said.
While watching video of the game afterward, Isabell, who led Drexel with 30 points, said he didn’t focus on the court.
“It was really cool to have [his mother] in the stands cheering,” Isabell said. “I wasn’t watching the players score. I was looking in the stands and seeing her reaction.”
David Worlock, the NCAA director of media coordination and statistics, was at home in Avon, Ind., Thursday night. He tracks scores on his computer every night, and he thought he wouldn’t need to pay much attention to this game when he saw Delaware take its giant lead. Then he checked back in the second half and did a “double-take” when he saw that Drexel had closed the gap to four points.
“I saw it was 77-73 with under five minutes left, and I started looking up data,” Worlock said on Friday.
He found that Duke beat Tulane, 74-72, after falling behind by 32 points 68 years ago and that Drexel would break that record if it somehow managed to win. When the game was over, Worlock tweeted out the news and got 492 retweets.
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) February 23, 2018
Friday was a light practice day for the Dragons. They play next on Saturday when they host the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the regular-season finale. Spiker, ever the coach, said his challenge now is to get the players focused on that game.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of time to sit and kick back and say, ‘Hey, this is something awesome,’ ” Spiker said. “We recognize the magnitude of it, but we want to win the next game, and that is Saturday.”
For senior Miles Overton, who played high school ball at St. Joseph’s Prep, Thursday night still seems like a dream. He had missed the previous 11 games with a back injury, so to return in a game that may be the highlight of what so far is a pedestrian season is stunning.
“It’s always big to play basketball,” Overton said. “Especially not having too many games left, to put my name in the history books is amazing.”