After starting slow in their home opener Nov. 14, the Drexel women’s basketball team gave their fans every reason to root until the final buzzer sounded.
Well, almost until the final buzzer sounded.
With 0.9 seconds left, the Dragons found themselves up on Saint Joseph’s University by one, 45-44, defending an inbound play that would need to be perfectly executed in order to succeed. That’s exactly what happened, as the Hawks’ inbound pass found junior guard Erin Shields wide open behind the three-point arc. Shields squared to the hoop and fired as time expired, connecting on nothing but the bottom of the net, extinguishing the Dragons’ hopes in the tightly contested home opener.
The game began in St. Joe’s favor, as they started the first half hot, hitting four of their first six field goals and taking advantage of a cold start from the Dragons. With 15:48 left in the first half, Drexel had already fallen behind 12-3 and was showing no sign of life offensively. But, just like in their season opener against Providence College, senior guard Hollie Mershon (last week’s Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week) caught fire.
Mershon’s confident shooting sparked the Dragons’ subsequent 13-4 run in which the girls hit six straight field goals, tying the score at 16-16. And when the Hawks reclaimed the lead, 24-20, Drexel didn’t let the score marinate, as they then ran off 12 straight points to take an authoritative 32-24 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish until the 1:06 mark of the second half.
Mershon shot 5-8 from the field and 3-4 from the free-throw line to pile up 13 points in the first half as she led a senior scoring onslaught. After her output came senior forward Nicki Jones, who had eight points at halftime, and senior Taylor Wootton, who had six at halftime after making her first three shots of the game. Wootton provided a flotation device for the Mershon-reliant offense as St. Joe’s began to understand the Dragons’ offensive plays, hitting shots on two of Mershon’s three assists in the game, and she finished the game with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Drexel took a 32-27 lead into halftime and scored the first two points of the second half, but the Dragons then hit a cold streak, as all of the team’s shooters seemed to lose their touch. The Hawks didn’t come out any better, taking 3:32 to score their first points of the half, which was also their first converted field goal since the 6:58 mark of the first half, a testament to the defensive prowess of the Dragons.
However, St. Joe’s eventually found a (relatively) productive rhythm and started to narrow the gap. With Mershon struggling in the second half (she shot just 2-9 in the final 20 minutes), the Drexel offense found scoring difficult, and with less than five minutes left, it was a two-point game with Drexel leading 41-39.
With 1:09 left, Shields hit a jumper to give the Hawks their first lead of the second half, and on the following Drexel possession, it seemed as if the Dragons might lose possession before Jones was able to keep the ball in bounds. Following a Drexel timeout, Mershon was able to shrug off her dismal second half and put in a layup with 26.7 seconds remaining in the game.
With what appeared to be one last chance, Mershon’s stalwart defense forced a poor shot selection, and the Dragons gained possession with 11 seconds left. But on the very next play, St. Joe’s senior guard Ashley Prim stole the ball and, after a short tussle, accidentally knocked the ball off of Mershon’s face, resulting in the possession arrow pointing the Hawks’ way.
After more continued defensive pressure on every St. Joe’s attempt, the true last chance came on the aforementioned game-winning shot from Shields to seal what was a truly titanic first game of the regular season at the DAC.
The Drexel women will continue their season Nov. 17, at La Salle University at 1 p.m.