Zach Spiker says love for Philly 'attracted' him to Drexel job


Zach Spiker says love for Philly 'attracted' him to Drexel job

Zach Spiker still vividly remembers his first trip to Veterans Stadium.

The West Virginia native was a few months out of high school, doing a post-graduate year at the Hill School in Pottstown, when he sat in the 700 Level and watched the Eagles beat the Cowboys after Dallas head coach Barry Switzer went for it on 4th-and-1 two plays in a row and got stuffed both times.

All around him, fans were screaming. They ran out of hot chocolate in the stadium. Earlier in the day, he had a Jim’s cheesesteak on South Street.

So many memories.

“That was my first real exposure to Philadelphia,” he said. “And I loved it.”

That was in December of 1995. A little more than 20 years later, Spiker returned to Philly to take over as Drexel’s head men’s basketball coach, getting introduced at a press conference on the University City campus Tuesday.

And although much has changed in his life since then as he’s climbed the coaching ladder at different stops across the country, one thing has not: his love for Philadelphia.

And he plans to use the allure of the city to help build up a Drexel program that’s fallen on hard times over the past couple of seasons.

“I’ve got all that stuff to sell to recruits -- the Big 5 and Philadelphia basketball,” he said. “It’s a great draw, a great attraction. I think it attracted me to be here.”

Spiker got his first taste of Philly hoops growing up near the University of West Virginia, watching the Mountaineers take on then-Atlantic 10 rivals Temple and Saint Joseph’s.

Like his first trip to the Vet, he has equally vivid memories of former Temple star Mark Macon and ex-St. Joe’s standout Rodney Blake, who he called his favorite player.

“Who from West Virginia can say that?” he laughed. “It doesn’t make sense.”

He learned more about Philadelphia from Penn head coach Steve Donahue, who he served under at Cornell from 2004-2009. He learned a lot about basketball from him too, which helped him land his first head coaching position at Army, where he won 102 games over the past seven seasons, including 19 in the most recent one, to become Drexel's top target.

Spiker also credits Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall (who he worked under at Winthrop from 2000 to 2002) and Michigan head coach John Beilein (who he worked under at West Virginia from 2002 to 2004) as key mentors, as well as Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski who also got his start at Army.

But the best piece of advice he’s ever gotten? That came from Donahue, who made the short walk over from Penn to be there for Spiker’s introductory press conference.

“He taught me how to understand knowing your players,” Spiker said. “And he said, 'When you get done with that, spend some time knowing them some more.' That, I think, was the best advice I’ve ever had as a coach. And I’m here today because of that.”

Spiker took that to heart in his new gig, immediately meeting with Drexel’s players and making sure the incoming seniors like Rodney Williams and Mohamed Bah know that he’s not here to blow everything up but that he’s ready to win right away.

He even said he plans to live on campus until he and his wife find a place to live. And on Monday night, he had dinner with Williams.

“We’re gonna have some standards in our program, but we can’t make rules without relationships,” Spiker said. "Rules without relationships can lead to rebellion. We’re going through this together.”

Williams, for one, was glad to start building that relationship with his new coach, which they did over burgers last night. More than anything, it’s helped ease the uncertainty surrounding the program after Bruiser Flint was fired after 15 years.

“Bru was here for a long time and we were always close,” Williams said. “But this is like a breath of fresh air. I like his energy. We all did a lot of research on him and are very impressed. Right now we’re eager to get started and see what he has in store for us.”

Spiker mentioned in his press conference that he’d be seeing the players in the weight room the next day. Meanwhile, he'll get right to work on the recruiting trail, trying to lure players from all over the country to a city he called the best in the world for college hoops.

The one he’s loved for a while and now finally gets to work in.

“It would be ignorant to ignore what Philadelphia offers,” Spiker said. “We’ve got to respect and understand that we can get players from everywhere. There’s great basketball here. What I want more than anything is for people to be excited about our institution.”

No. 14 Penn State's defense dominates Rutgers

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No. 14 Penn State's defense dominates Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Trace McSorley threw two touchdown passes to tight end Pat Freiermuth and No. 14 Penn State's defense set up two touchdowns with turnovers in a 20-7 victory over Rutgers on Saturday, sending the Scarlet Knights to their 10th straight loss.

McSorley's touchdown passes covered 6 yards in the second quarter and 18 in the fourth as the Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten, No. 14 CFP) beat Rutgers (1-10, 0-7) for the 12th straight time. Jake Pinegar added field goals of 22 and 19 yards.

The win was No. 30 for McSorley as a starter, making him the winningest quarterback in school history. The senior had been tied with Todd Blackledge (1980-82) and Tony Sacca (1988-91). The two touchdowns increased his total - running and passing - to 101.

Raheem Blacksheer scored on a 2-yard fourth-quarter run for Rutgers to deny Penn State its first shutout in more than a season.

The dominant group for Penn State was its defense, which forced three turnovers, had four sacks and 11 tackles for losses and held Rutgers to 46 yards passing.

Safety Garrett Taylor intercepted a horrible pass by freshman Art Sitkowski late in the second quarter to give the Nittany Lions the ball at the Rutgers 28. Four plays later, McSorley (17 of 37 for 183 yards) found Freiermuth for a 10-3 lead with 2:04 left in the half.

Senior Gio Rescigno replaced Sitkowski (3 of 7 for 18 yards and two interceptions) after the bad decision on the screen pass Penn State read from the start.

A Daniel Joseph recovery of an Isaih Pacheco fumble at the Rutgers 46 late in the third quarter set up the second TD pass early in the fourth for a 20-0 lead.

The Scarlet Knights should have scored in the third quarter. After moving 82 yards on 14 running plays, they ran a fourth-down flea flicker from the 2-yard line and a wide-open Rescigno dropped a soft pass from Trey Sneed, who had lined up outside and took a toss from Blackshear.

The takeaway

This was not an impressive performance by the Nittany Lions, who were hoping to move into a position for a possible New Year's Day bowl game. The offense never got going and the only reason it was no contest was the Penn State defense.

The Scarlet Knights are now facing the prospect of their first one-win season since going 1-11 in Greg Schiano's second season, in 2002. Rutgers was 0-11 in 1997, so this isn't rock bottom. The 10-game losing streak is the longest since losing 11 in a row over the end of the 1998-99 season.

Up next

Penn State: Plays host to Maryland next Saturday and then waits for a bowl bid.

Rutgers: Finishes season at Michigan State next Saturday.

Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

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Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Charles Matthews set the tone with a slam and celebrated by flexing to the crowd.

Quickly, the rematch turned into a rout.

Matthews scored 19 points, Ignas Brazdeikis had 18 and No. 18 Michigan beat No. 8 Villanova 73-46 Wednesday night in their first meeting since last season's national championship game.

Villanova captured its second title in three years with a 79-62 victory over Michigan in April but was completely overmatched in the second game at its newly renovated Pavilion.

"I don't think when I'm out there," Matthews said, explaining his emotional reaction to a basket less than 90 seconds into the game. "It was a fun, exciting game. I got the dunk and I screamed."

Eric Paschall scored 10 points and Phil Booth had nine for the Wildcats (2-1).

The Wolverines (3-0) jumped ahead early and never let up. They led 10-2 less than five minutes in and expanded the lead to 22-8 on Matthews' jumper midway through the opening half. A 17-3 run followed, giving Michigan a 39-13 lead. Matthews' dunk and consecutive 3-pointers from Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole highlighted the run.

Matthews capped the impressive first half with a steal and layup to send Michigan to the locker room with a 44-17 lead.

"I'm very impressed with Michigan," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Really like their team, great togetherness, great execution. It's my fault I'm running a lot of guys out there. We're not as organized as we want to be. We're trying to figure out a lineup early in the season. We didn't have the cohesiveness to play a good team like that."

Villanova's frustration was evident after Michigan's Zavier Simpson's flagrant foul led to a brief scuffle with Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree near midcourt with 13 minutes remaining and Michigan leading 52-24.

The Wildcats couldn't make any push in the second half, and fans hit the road early.

"They executed way better than we were prepared to play defense," Booth said.

Neither team looked like the two squads who met in San Antonio seven months ago.

Villanova lost four players who were drafted in the first 33 picks of the NBA draft. AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game — is with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Michigan lost three of its top four scorers. Moe Wagner, the star big man, was drafted by the Lakers in the first round and is playing in Germany. Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman graduated.

"They're a young team and they lost a lot of people," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "This is a November win. That's all it is. We have to learn from it, forget it and get ready for our next game."

Impressive freshman
Brazdeikis' teammates love his attitude and confidence on the floor.

"Iggy is like a mean pit bull," Simpson said.

The Finn
Bill Finneran, the Villanova alum who was the lead donor for the school's on-campus court that underwent a $65 million face-lift, was honored at halftime.

"The worst game you're going to see here," Finneran told the crowd.

Big picture
Michigan: Brazdeikis showed he can score against tough competition, performing well against top defender Paschall. Brazdeikis and Matthews give the Wolverines a formidable wing duo going forward.

Villanova: Showed its youth, giving Wright plenty of teaching points. The Wildcats relied on 3s the first two games, taking more shot attempts from beyond the arc than inside. They couldn't get them to fall from long range, going 3 for 15.

Up next
Michigan hosts George Washington on Saturday.

Villanova hosts Furman on Saturday.