Three seconds separated the team from winning their hard-fought battle against the University of Delaware, the top team in the Colonial Athletic Association.
With just 2.3 seconds left in the second half, Delaware star Elena Delle Donne found the net to give her team a heartbreaking 40-39 win over the Dragons Feb. 19 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Throughout the first half, the Dragons had trouble with consistency on offense.
“Offensively we didn’t do so well,” head coach Denise Dillon said. “We struggled a bit from the field, and a credit to their defense — both teams are recognized for the strong defense we each play. But I don’t feel we took advantage of some situations we had. I thought we had some easy looks early on, and we didn’t knock them down.”
The Dragons were just 4-for-23 from the field and only managed to score 11 points. With that said the Dragons had an impressive showing on defense, holding Delle Donne to her worst offensive performance of the season with 12 points.
The Dragons also held the Blue Hens to just 40 points after the team scored no fewer than 60 points per game all season. Not to mention, Drexel’s one-point loss to Delaware was the closest any team has come to defeating the Blue Hens this year.
“We were playing aggressive defense, so we gave ourselves a chance,” Dillon said.
Entering the second half, Drexel trailed 11-20 and needed to hone in and amp up the energy level in order to make any sort of progress. Within minutes of the second, Kamile Nacickaite and Tyler Hale added a combined six points in a row for Drexel, making it a four-point game at 20-24.
After both teams exchanged baskets, the score leveled off at 28-26 for nearly five minutes of play. Delle Donne responded with a basket, giving both teams a wake-up call.
Once the score hit 32-28, the tides began to turn. Ayana Lee hit three of four free throws to slash Delaware’s lead to just one point. Almost immediately after Lee’s efforts, Hollie Mershon charged down the court for a well-deserved and necessary layup followed by a successful free throw. With that the Dragons took a two-point lead with less than five minutes left in play.
In a nail-biting final few minutes, Mershon single-handedly battled Delle Donne and Lauren Carra offensively to keep the Dragons ahead. Unfortunately, Mershon’s efforts were not enough, as Delle Donne hit a free throw with 25 seconds left in play, followed by a leaner with 2.3 seconds left to clinch the win for her team.
This win solidified Delaware’s No. 1 seed in the CAA Tournament and kept their undefeated record alive.
Coming into the game against The College of William & Mary Feb. 23 at the DAC, the Dragons knew they had to pull out a big win — and that’s just what they did.
“One of the biggest things I was pleased with was [how] the girls responded tonight,” Dillon said. “They came back with the same mentality of knowing we are going to count on our defense night in and night out, and then let’s see what happens on the offensive end.”
Marisa Crane got the game started by rebounding a missed shot from W&M and passing it to Taylor Wootton, who put the first points on the board.
A series of back-and-forth scoring between both teams followed throughout the first few minutes of play — the Dragons would find the basket, and the Tribe would answer.
Though the Tribe managed to keep up with the Dragons at first, their efforts were short-lived. Once the score hit 6-6, the Dragons started to run away with the game.
Drexel began to slow down the pace offensively, which helped them find their rhythm. With quick passes and successful shooting, the Dragons were up 15-6 in no time.
With less than 10 minutes left to play, the Tribe cut Drexel’s lead to 27-17. And sadly for W&M, their 10-point deficit would be the closest they would get to the Dragons throughout the half and the contest.
In the final three minutes of the first, Renee Johnson-Allen put her first points on the board, taking the Dragons to 41-22. Moments later Wootton hit her shot for three, giving the Dragons a 20-point lead and closing the half at 44-24.
“We executed well tonight — I thought we moved the ball,” Dillon said. “My favorite stat was the 24 assists on 29 field goals, so you just saw more team basketball on the offensive end.”
Drexel picked up where they left off in the second, with Wootton making a basket and taking the score to 46-24.
Throughout the rest of the game, the Dragons barely gave the Tribe any leeway. With just under 10 minutes left in the game, Nacickaite hit a three, bringing the Dragons’ lead to 61-39.
After a few back-and-forth shots, Drexel wrapped up the contest with a resounding 72-43 win.
If beating a team by nearly 30 points doesn’t say “CAA Tournament, here we come!” Who knows what does?
“We are talking about controlling our own destiny, and that started with tonight’s game,” Dillon said. “The last few [games] are huge for us trying to get that top-four spot.”
The Dragons are set to take on Towson University Feb. 26 in Towson, Md. This contest, along with the final regular season game against Virginia Commonwealth University, will determine whether or not the Dragons get a bye in the first round of the CAA Tournament.