By Harry Allison
To put Drexel’s CAA championship into perspective, remember this:
The Dragons had to beat James Madison on Feb. 26 just to stay out of the play-in round of the tourney!
And now they are in the Big Dance for the first time since 1996.
Mate Okros scored 14 points with four 3-pointers and sixth-seeded Drexel is headed to the NCAA Tournament by knocking off eighth-seeded Elon 63-56 in the championship game.
The Dragons, whose last NCAA appearance came in 1996 as a member of the America East Conference, were 10 of 17 from 3-point range and went 29 of 51 in their three wins.
Xavier Bell added 11 points, and was one of three players with two 3s for Drexel (12-7), which played four games at James Madison’s Atlantic Union Bank Center this season and only two at home due to COVID issues.
Hunter McIntosh scored 19 points for Elon (10-9), which had its seven-game winning streak end in a bid to be the first team to win four straight in the CAA tourney. Ikenna Ndugba added 16 points for the Phoenix, who have never been to the Division I Big Dance.
Elon beat top-seeded James Madison by one in the quarterfinals and defending champion Hofstra by 18 in the semifinals.
Elon was within 57-53 following a McIntosh 3 with 1:02 to play but the Dragons went 6 for 6 from the foul line, making them 16 for 16 in the final minute of its last two games.
Drexel is now 8-7 against Elon but they didn’t play this season because of COVID issues.
Drexel took a 32-27 halftime lead, making 6 of 11 from 3-point range to 1 of 8 for the Phoenix. Okros hit 3 of 4 from distance and Zach Walton hit one from the left corner in the closing seconds for the Dragons.
Neither team shot a free throw in the first half but Drexel was 11 of 14 in the second when Elon was 2 of 3.