A tenacious rally by the Dragons from a 16-point halftime deficit fell just short in a 59-56 loss to the Virginia Commonwealth (28-6) rams in the CAA Championship game. Drexel (27-6) was led by 20 points from CAA Rookie of the Year Damion Lee, whose second-half shooting brought the Dragons back into the game.
A Chris Fouch three-pointer with 12.7 seconds left brought what had been a commanding Rams lead down to the narrowest of margins. But Troy Daniels knocked down two from the free-throw stripe with 11 seconds to make it at 59-56 game and a step-back three-pointer by Massenat missed its mark. Time expired as the players scrambled for a rebound, giving VCU its second straight CAA title.
Twelve turnovers by the Dragons in the first half staked the Rams to a daunting 16-point lead at the break. Inspired play led by Drexel's guards in the second half allowed the Dragons to inch their way back into the game. But ultimately it proved just a bit too much to overcome.
Drexel shot 54.5 percent from deep in the second half and 44 percent from the floor overall in the period, but it was a cold 26.9 percent performance coupled with the miscues in the first half that put the Dragons in a deep hole. Senior Samme Givens led the Dragons on the boards with 15 caroms as his team outrebounded VCU 41-24.
Massenat added 15 points, and his efforts kept the game close in the opening minutes of play. Chris Fouch was the only other Dragon in double figures with 14 points and a team-leading three assists.
The Rams kept Drexel's post players in check for most of the contest. The trio of Givens, Daryl McCoy and Dartaye Ruffin combined to score just seven points on 1-5 shooting.
While the Rams full-court press certainly left its mark on the first half of the game, the Dragons were undaunted by the persistent VCU pressure in the second half. Drexel steadily chipped away at the Rams' lead. Massenat knifed through the lane for a layup that brought it to 13 points, then Lee followed with a three pointer from the right side and a breakaway steal for a layup. Lee's runout brought Drexel within nine points, 41-32 with just under 13 minutes to play.
Lee rattled home another three-pointer, this one from the baseline, and knocked down a pair of free throws with 9:06 on the clock to shrink the Rams advantage to six points.
Five minutes later, Lee would answer the call again by hitting a long three from the top of the arc, making the score 52-44 by the under-four-minute media timeout.
After a missed free throw by Rob Brandenberg, Massenat drew a foul and made a pair to bring the score to 52-46. But Brandenberg atoned for his miscue by converting a driving layup and drawing a foul to push VCU's lead back to eight.
Two Givens free throws and a baseline drive by Lee later and the Rams' margin was down to its smallest since the opening moments of the game, 54-50 with 1:37 left in the contest.
On VCU's ensuing possession, Lee came up with a lose ball and lead a Drexel breakaway that resulted in Givens going to the free throw line after a mad scramble for an offensive rebound. The senior cooly made one of two and the game became a one-possession affair. Taveon Graham answered with one free throw of his own to make it a 55-51 game with 45 seconds remaining.
Lee missed a contested layup and a pair of put-back attempts in the last 30 seconds, but Massenat picked off a long VCU pass at half court while being fouled and knocked down both of the resultant free throws to bring the Dragons within two points.
Drexel shot just 26.9 percent in the opening period, while VCU found the bottom of the net on 44.4 percent of their shots. Massenat's eight points led the Dragons at halftime while Darius Theus put in 10 on 5-for-6 shooting for the Rams.
The Rams appeared to be the aggressor in the opening minutes of play with a pair of breakaway hoops resulting from steals on the perimeter. When Troy Daniels converted a four-point play to give VCU an 8-5 lead, Massenat responded with an acrobatic drive down the right side of the lane for a layup to keep the game tight.
A pair of driving layups by Theus put the Rams on top 16-9 at the nine-minute mark. But Givens found a darting Fouch on the left sided of the lane for a layup and Massenat followed with a floater from the wing to draw the Dragons within three points.
The Rams' lead swelled to 13 points, 28-15, by the 3:30 mark as the Dragons suffered through a scoreless drought of nearly four minutes. Fouch snapped the streak with a pair of free throws with 3:29 on the clock. But when Daniels rolled in a three-pointer with under 30 seconds to play, the Rams grabbed their largest lead of the game at 35-19 and sent much of the capacity crowd, comprised predominantly of Rams fans, to its feet.
The heroics of Massenat and Lee did not go unnoticed by game's end when they were both named to the CAA's All-Tournament Team. The Dragons will now await the NCAA Selection Committee's decision to find out if they will be playing in the NCAA Tournament or claiming their automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament.