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Fire-breathing Dragons

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Nov. 23, 2005

I have to be honest. When I went to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals, I thought it would be a blowout. No. 1 Duke against a Drexel team picked seventh in the Colonial Athletic Association … are you serious?

Bruiser Flint's team hung tough and the final score (a 78-68 Duke win) was not indicative of how hard the top-ranked team had to fight to get to the winner's circle.

I was so impressed with the way the Dragons played. It reflected the personality of their coach, Flint, who is a fighter and a battler. Drexel played its style and did not try to slow down the contest. It showed passion and the kids played so hard, giving everything they could. I grade them an "A" for the evening.

A game like this shows the mid-majors can play with the big boys if given the opportunity. Great guard play can keep underdogs in games and the tandem of Dominic Mejia and Bashir Mason was outstanding.

Mejia, a transfer from N.C. State, had the game of his life, scoring a career-high 25. He left the Wolfpack because he didn't get playing time behind the likes of Julius Hodge and Cameron Bennerman. Mejia, playing with confidence, took advantage of his opportunity in the spotlight and truly shined.

While Drexel was never intimidated, the bottom line was J.J. Redick was too much for the Dragons. Shelden Williams was in foul trouble for most of the game, so Redick stepped up and stroked jumpers, hit running shots in the lane and was solid on the foul line. I really think Redick has a great chance to be national Player of the Year this season.

I know some people will question Duke because it was a close game. I hate that mentality. The Blue Devils played well enough to get the "W," and some fans are critical when they don't win by 20 or 30.

I have to say the Colonial Athletic Association should have a special season. Old Dominion is a solid favorite as Blaine Taylor has Alex Loughton leading the way. Then you look at NC-Wilmington, a team that played so well in the BCA Invitational at Wyoming earlier this season. George Mason took Wake Forest to overtime. Hofstra and Virginia Commonwealth are dangerous teams.

Drexel showed it will make some noise in that competitive league. Flint and his squad should be proud of its performance against No. 1 Duke.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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