The Drexel University women’s basketball team upset No. 11-ranked Syracuse University 62-61 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center Nov. 21, but lost 78-66 on the road against Bucknell University Nov. 27.
In a matchup on the road with the Syracuse Orange last season, the Dragons lost 83-62 in the Carrier Dome Dec. 29, 2015.
As a team, the Dragons had 25 turnovers against the Orange last season and struggled to beat Syracuse’s suffocating full-court press. Turning the ball over 20-plus times against a team that went to the 2016 NCAA tournament finals, and had four returning senior starters, would be a recipe for disaster for the Dragons.
Heading into their matchup with the Orange Nov. 21, the Dragons focused a big portion of their practice time on effectively beating the full-court press. The work the team put in certainly paid off come game time.
Size-wise, Drexel was completely outmatched. Five-foot-11-inch’ freshman Bailey Greenberg started at center and Syracuse’s 6-foot-4-inch senior center Briana Day towered over her. Day scored 26 points in Syracuse’s win over the Dragons Dec. 29, 2015, as Drexel could not find a way to counter her size and athleticism.
However, in this year’s matchup, the Dragons implemented a 2-3 zone with a focus on preventing Day from getting easy looks. Greenberg and junior Kelsi Lidge did a great job of denying Day the ball on the low block. In the first half, Day managed just four shot attempts and was held to just six points.
While their 2-3 zone defense helped to offset their size disadvantage, the Dragons kept pace with the Orange because of their discipline against the full-court press. Despite constant pressure throughout, Drexel managed just six turnovers in the first half Nov. 21, a drastic improvement from the 14 that the team had against Syracuse in 2015.
Senior guard Meghan Creighton also contributed with arguably the best game of her career. Creighton got rolling early for the Dragons by picking up two steals and connecting on two three-point field goal attempts in the first quarter. She hit her third three-pointer just minutes into the second quarter.
When Creighton wasn’t draining shots from deep, senior Sarah Curran was getting buckets in and around the paint. Curran, the team’s leading scorer for the past three seasons, was held scoreless in the first quarter, but she erupted for ten points in the second quarter.
With just 58 seconds remaining in the first half, Curran made a three-pointer to give the Dragons a 31-28 lead. The Orange would respond on the next possession with a made three-pointer from freshman Gabby Cooper. The two teams went into halftime with the score knotted at 31-31, and the Dragons were in prime position to pull off the upset.
Despite their performance in the first half, the Dragons were well aware of what a team as talented as Syracuse could do if they let up even just a little bit in the second half. Last year, with the score tied 34-34 at halftime, Drexel was outscored 49-28 by Syracuse in the second half. However, Drexel was poised to prevent that from happening for a second straight meeting.
Coming out of halftime, the Dragons struggled offensively on their first couple of possessions, but a three-point field goal from senior Jessica Pellechio at the 7:52 mark in the third quarter ended their scoreless stretch.
The third quarter was a bloodbath, with the lead shifting back and forth five times. Creighton continued her hot shooting and made two more three-pointers in the third quarter to help the Dragons keep pace with the Orange. With 1:23 remaining in the third, Creighton nailed a three-pointer to give the Dragons a 44-41.
Syracuse would go on a 5-0 run to end the third quarter, which included a layup by senior Alexis Peterson as the clock expired.
Despite trailing the eleventh-ranked team in the nation by just two points, the Dragons were unable to capitalize on a few big opportunities. In the third quarter alone, they missed five layups, including three on fast break opportunities. Missed chances aside, the Dragons had played well enough to earn an upset.
After a couple of scoreless possessions by both teams, Creighton made the first field goal of the fourth quarter when she hit a three-pointer at the 8:22 mark and gave the Dragons a 47-46 lead.
Bria Day responded immediately for the Orange. On the ensuing possession, Day scored a layup while being fouled. She knocked down her free throw attempt to make the score 49-47 in favor of Syracuse. Cooper then made a layup at the 6:30 mark to extend Syracuse’s lead to 51-47.
Moments later, Lidge made a clutch jump shot for the Dragons to cut Syracuse’s lead in half. After a Brittney Sykes layup for the Orange, junior Sarah Woods responded with a two-point jump shot for the Dragons.
Sykes caught fire for the Orange down the stretch. She made two more baskets in the closing minutes and extended Syracuse’s lead to 57-51 with just 2:23 remaining.
Following Sykes’ layup, Curran missed a three-pointer for the Dragons, and it appeared as if Syracuse was going to close out the game. However, Lidge stole the ball from Sykes on Syracuse’s ensuing possession, and Sykes subsequently fouled Lidge.
After the play was over, a technical foul was called on Sykes, which sent Creighton to the free throw line. Creighton connected on both technical free throws to cut Syracuse’s lead to four.
Despite getting possession of the ball after Creighton’s free throws, the Dragon’s committed a turnover and Gabby Cooper got to the free throw line after being fouled on a fastbreak layup. Cooper missed one of her two free throws, which made the Syracuse lead 58-53 with 1:48 remaining in the contest.
Curran was fouled by Day when the Dragons inbounded the ball, so Curran went to the line and made both of her free throws to cut the lead back down to three. Briana Day was then fouled on Syracuse’s next possession, and she made both of her free throws to make the score 60-55 Syracuse.
In a high pressure situation, Greenberg made a layup for the Dragons and cut Syracuse’s lead to 60-57 with 1:07 left. Syracuse the committed a turnover, and Curran made layup for the Dragons with 20 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, cutting Syracuse’s lead to 60-59.
The Dragons fouled Alexis Peterson when Syracuse inbounded the ball, and she went to the line with a chance to seal the game for the Orange. Peterson missed her first shot, but made her second to give the Orange a 61-59 lead with 18 seconds left on the clock.
Drexel broke Syracuse’s press on their final possession, and Kelsi Lidge got an open lane to basket. When Lidge began to Drive, the Syracuse defense collapsed on her, so Lidge kicked the ball out to a wide open Meghan Creighton. Just as she had been doing all game long, Creighton buried a jump shot from behind the three-point line to give Drexel a 62-61 lead with just eight seconds remaining in the game.
“The game is a fast paced game so you don’t have much time to think, but I saw Kelsi Lidge coming down the floor and I just figured she’s going to drive to the basket and hopefully my girl helps and I’m just going to spot up, so that’s what I did,” Creighton said after the game.
Following Creighton’s buckets, Alexis Peterson took the inbound pass and dribbled to Drexel’s free throw line. She pulled up for a mid-range jumper, but her shot hit the back iron and bounced away. The clock hit zero, the red lights went off, and the fans in attendance rushed the court as the Dragons pulled off the upset over the Orange with a thrilling 62-61 victory.
Creightons game winning three-pointer was significant in multiple ways. Not only did it give the Dragons the victory, but it also gave Creighton a team and career high in scoring.
“I had the hot hand today so I caught it, I was open and at the end of the game you gotta take the shot. So I took the shot and picked a good day to get my career high,” Creighton said.
It was also her seventh three-pointer of the game, which marked a personal best and was just one shy of the Drexel single game record of eight, a feat that teammate Jessica Pellechio accomplished in the season opener Nov. 11.
“Meg had the hot hand and pulled the trigger. Didn’t hesitate for that final three and it was exciting, ” Drexel head coach Denise Dillon said after the game Nov. 21.
Creighton was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week for her efforts against the Orange.
Coach Dillon was excited with the win and was pleased with how her team was able to execute its game plan.
“I was happy we didn’t go for the tie, I didn’t want to see another five minutes on the clock. So, I think that’s why everyone was standing around the three-point line,” Dillon said.
Curran was the second leading scorer for the Dragons and finished with 14 points.
Greenberg had a solid outing with ten points and five rebounds.
Pellechio led the team with six rebounds.
Lidge contributed in multiple facets of the game, pulling down four rebounds, coming up with four steals, and dishing out a team high-six assists.
Drexel followed up its dramatic win against Syracuse with a disappointing loss on the road against Bucknell Nov. 27.
The Dragons got off to a slow start and trailed Bucknell 21-12 by the end of the first quarter.
Behind sharp shooting from the three-point line, Drexel fought back to tie the game 31-31 at the 2:57 mark in the second quarter. Creighton, Pellechio and Greenberg each made two three-pointers during the Dragons second quarter surge.
Despite Drexel’s explosion from behind the arc, Bucknell finished the first half on a 8-1 run and went into halftime with a 39-32 lead.
Coming out of halftime, it appeared as if the Dragons were going to take control of the game. Curran made a three-point shot in the opening seconds that cut Bucknell’s lead to four. It was the first of three consecutive three-point shots that Curran would hit in the opening minutes of the half.
Curran scored the first 11 points of the second half for the Dragons, who managed to stay competitive for Bucknell halfway through the third quarter. However, Bucknell began to pull away and went on a 12-4 run to end the third.
Trailing 61-49 at the beginning of the final quarter, the Dragons began to struggle offensively. After freshman Aubree Brown made a layup at the 9:17 mark, the Dragons proceeded to miss their next seven field goal attempts. Bucknell capitalized on Drexel’s struggles and extended its lead to as much as 18.
The deficit proved to be too much for the Dragons to overcome, and they fell to Bucknell 78-66.
Next up on the schedule for the Dragons is a road game against Cornell University Dec. 3.