WILLIAMSBURG ——Ask the William and Mary Tribe if it felt good to break back into the win column after a seven-game slide and a winless start to the CAA schedule.
"To say it feels good might be the understatement of the year," said Tribe forward Quinn McDowell. "It was starting to get a little discouraging, like, 'When is this going to click? When is all of the hard work we've been putting in going to pay off?' "
By neutralizing the strengths of Drexel, pay day was Saturday night as the Tribe defeated the Dragons 80-66 in a crisp, fundamentally solid performance before 2,821 at Kaplan Arena.
Drexel (11-5, 3-3 CAA) came into the game leading the CAA in rebounding at 42.5 per game and outrebounding their conference foes by more than 12 boards per contest. The Dragons also led the nation in defending the 3-point shot, holding opponents to 24.3 percent, and ranked 18th in points allowed (59.3 points per game).
But W&M (5-12, 1-4 CAA) flipped the script on the Dragons by going 7-for-14 from behind the arch while outrebounding Drexel 31-25. Twenty-seven of those boards came off of the defensive glass, limiting the Dragons' second-chance scoring opportunities.
Marcus Kitts led the Tribe with nine rebounds while reserves Kyle Gaillard and Tim Rusthoven combined for nine more, largely in Kitts' relief.
McDowell, a junior, went 3-for-5 from 3-point range in scoring 23 points, but was bested by freshman Brandon Britt, who led all players with 25 points.
Both Tribesmen were instrumental in a tone-setting 9-0 opening to the game that coincided with Drexel going 0-for-5 from the floor. McDowell netted the game's opening basket on a turn-around jumper followed by a transition layup and 3-pointer from Britt.
"We know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of one of those runs, like when we played VCU last Wednesday," McDowell said. "Not that you can't bounce back from something like that, but to set the tone early and say, 'We're here to play,' is always good."
But Drexel righted the ship to close out the half, methodically chipping away at its opening deficit by pounding the interior of W&M's zone defense and kicking the ball out to Gerald Colds, who went 7-for-9 from 3-point range in scoring 22 points to lead the Dragons.
Drexel led briefly late in the first half after a Chris Fouch runner made it 27:26 with 1:22 remaining, but McDowell responded with a 3-ball followed by a layup from Matt Rum that ensured the Tribe would lead heading into the half.
Colds drew the game back to a 1-point affair when he hit a buzzer-beating 3 that made it 31-30 at the half.
But any Drexel momentum created by the shot did not translate to the opening of the second half, as W&M reeled off a scorching 24-10 to put the game well in hand.
"I can't tell you how many times this year we've had someone throw in shots at the end of a half or at the end of a shot-clock," W&M coach Tony Shaver said. "And (Colds) threw in that 3 at the end of the buzzer. But how we handled that in the locker room and how we came out in the first four minutes of the first half was a real maturing point for our basketball team."
Again, McDowell and Britt led the charge as a 3-pointer from McDowell sealed a 7-0 start to the half and a deep 3 from Britt extended an 8-point Tribe lead to 11 at 51-40 late in the push.
After that bucket, Drexel, which entered the double-bonus with 5:45 remaining, only trailed by less than 10 points for one possession as W&M drained 15-of-18 foul shots down the stretch.