There were several NBA scouts in the house, including Portland’s Steve Rosenberry and Orlando’s Dave Twardzik, the man who practically became a resident of Philadelphia 7 years ago when he was watching Jameer Nelson’s every move during the national Player of the Year’s senior season at Saint Joseph’s. The scouts were there to see Jenkins.
They saw an understated player who has started all 108 games in his career and has zero wasted motion on the court. If he is open, he shoots. If he is covered, he passes. He does not make bad plays.
When he got his fourth foul with 14:11 in a game that was clearly up for grabs, he missed just 4 1/2 minutes of action and never came close to picking up his fifth foul.
And when one play was going to make the difference between winning and losing, Jenkins made it. When Drexel’s Samme Givens missed a short jumper with 1:22 left that would have given his team a one-point lead, Jenkins took the rebound, streaked the other way and made a smooth lefthanded layup that gave his team a cushion it nursed to the wire in a 75-69 win.
“We’re not one of those teams he scorches,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. “I didn’t think we did a bad job, but he’s one of those guys at the end of the game, he can make a play for you. That’s the thing that kills you.”
It was surely the thing that killed Drexel.
The Dragons got career highs from Givens (25 points) and Dartaye Ruffin (16 points), but their usual solid wings, Gerald Colds and Chris Fouch, shot just 4-for-17 between them.
“[Fouch] and [Colds] got hurt this weekend and they haven’t been practicing,” Flint said. “[Colds] came down really bad on his ankle and Chris got a little thing on his knee and they played that way.”
Drexel, with a very short bench, can’t afford any injuries. And it showed.
We couldn’t guard them because those guys couldn’t guard them,” Flint said. “That was the bottom line. But, even with all that, we had our chances.”
Drexel’s Derrick Thomas did a really nice defensive job on Jenkins, making him earn everything and limiting him to just 5-for-14 shooting. But Jenkins found another way to score, making 11 free throws and finishing right on his average 23 points.
Jenkins came into the game shooting 60 percent overall, 50 percent from the arc and 82.2 percent from the foul line. He has scored 2,072 points in his career.
If toughness were draftable, Drexel (9-3, 1-1 Colonial Athletic Association) would be a lottery pick. The Dragons attack rebounds like there is cash buried inside the leather. Givens is absolutely relentless.
The rebound margin explains Drexel numerically and nothing explains it any better than last night’s first half. Hofstra attempted 26 shots. Drexel missed 26 shots. Yet, the Dragons were plus two on the glass, which should be impossible. For the season, they were crushing teams on the glass by 12.6 boards per game and beat Hofstra by 13 despite all those missed shots that normally tilt the rebound numbers the other way.
Hofstra shot 48.1 percent, a number Drexel rarely gives up.
“We just got to get back to what we do which is rebound and play ‘D,’ ” Givens said.
The Dragons trailed 34-27 at the break, but got themselves in the bonus 5 minutes into the second half and really looked ready to take control. Drexel led 58-55 with barely 4 minutes left when consecutive turnovers opened the door for Hofstra (8-5, 2-0).
“Get those guys in foul trouble, they got two of their best guys on the bench,” Flint said. “We’re up, we throw the ball away twice and they score. That was it.”
And that chess match?
“That’s fun especially when you win,” Cassara said.
As we begin play in 2011, any list of surprise teams in college hoops would include Drexel. Nobody could have seen 9-2 before New Year’s and a win at Louisville for a team that seemed to have a lot more questions than answers when the season began in mid-November.
There is nothing subtle about the CAA. There are no nights off. Many of the games will be just like last night. And the Dragons will definitely win their share.