SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—When Syracuse’s Terrence Roberts went down with a knee injury, Frank Elegar and the Drexel Dragons took the opportunity to soar to new heights.
Elegar had 27 points and 10 rebounds, Dominick Mejia had 16 points, and surprising Drexel beat the 23rd-ranked Orange 84-79 on Tuesday night.
It was the fifth straight victory for Drexel (7-2) and its third in a row over a team it had struggled against over the years.
The Dragons upset Villanova 81-76 10 days ago for the first victory in school history over the Wildcats after 17 straight losses. Drexel beat another Philadelphia rival, Saint Joseph’s, only its seventh victory in 49 games against the Hawks, and posted its first win in three tries against the Orange (9-3).
“I think we have a good team,” Drexel coach James “Bruiser” Flint said in a voice that was hoarse from a halftime tirade. “We’re not coming into these games thinking we’ll lose. We have a good chance to win.”
Thanks in large part to the 6-foot-9 Elegar, who averaged 18.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the Dragons’ previous four wins. He was 11-for-16 from the field against Syracuse and keyed the decisive 14-4 run that gave the Dragons a 71-61 lead with 5:34 left in the game.
“I let the game come to me. I didn’t try to force anything,” said Elegar, who hit a hook in the lane to begin the spurt and added six more points. “My teammates were getting me the ball, and I did the best I could with it.”
The absence of the 6-9 Roberts certainly helped. He sprained his left knee in the final minute of the first half and never returned. With him on the floor, the Orange led 43-36 at halftime. Without him, they had no answer for Elegar, especially after 6-11 center Darryl Watkins fouled out with 1:33 left and the Orange down by five points.
“We’re fragile. We can’t afford to play without Terrence,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I was disappointed with what we did defensively with him out of there. He’s our best defensive player, and we had no answer.”
“Him (Roberts) not being there gave those guys more confidence,” added guard Josh Wright, who finished with 11 points, three assists and four turnovers for the Orange.
Bashir Mason had 14 points, 12 in the second half, and five assists for Drexel.
Syracuse received another stellar performance from senior forward Demetris Nichols, who had a career-high 31 points and should have had more. Nichols was 10-for-22 from the field but contributed his share of missed shots close to the basket.
“We missed eight layups in the second half,” Boeheim said. “Nobody’s good enough to do that. You miss eight layups and you’re going to lose.”
With Syracuse leading 53-52 seven minutes into the second half, Eric Devendorf missed a 3-pointer and Nichols missed the rebound attempt. Seconds later, Nichols missed a driving layup off the glass and Watkins missed the follow.
“I missed two or three of them, so that really hurt,” said Nichols, who has scored 20 or more points in seven of the past eight games. “That could have been the difference, but who knows?”
Syracuse was coming off its best performance of the season—a 94-71 victory over Baylor on Saturday—but without Roberts squandered that halftime lead.
“We had to get our stops. We would have won the game if we could have stopped a couple of people,” said Watkins, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. “We needed that other big man to get a couple of rebounds that I couldn’t get to get our offense moving.”
Drexel trailed 53-46 after Wright’s steal and layup at 14:46. But Mason made his first 3 of the game, then set up Scott Rodgers for another 3 less than a minute later as the Dragons roared back.
Chaz Crawford’s follow on the second try and a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Tramayne Hawthorne gave Drexel a 57-55 lead with 11:33 to go.
Syracuse, which went 13-for-24 from the field in the first half, hit just 13-of-41 for 31.7 percent in the second.
Still, Syracuse got within 77-73 on Wright’s driving layup with 81 seconds left, and a three-point play by freshman Paul Harris pulled the Orange within 81-78 with 36 seconds to go. But Crawford made two free throws and Mason added another to stop the rally.