March 02, 2012 by John Chagaris
The Drexel women’s basketball team has had a largely successful and exciting run this year, boasting a 16-12 overall record (12-6 Colonial Athletic Association). The Dragons clinched a first-round bye in the CAA Tournament with their win against Towson University Feb. 26.
Coming off a dominating win against The College of William & Mary, the Dragons traveled to Towson, Md. Feb 26 to face the Towson Tigers (16-12, 7-10 CAA).
The Dragons had their backs against the wall late in the first half, as they were down 23-18. The Dragons clamped down on defense and went on a 7-0 run for the remaining five minutes of the half. The run was capped off when junior forward Hollie Mershon sank a running left-handed layup and drew a foul with 6.1 seconds remaining to put Drexel up 25-23 at the half.
The Dragons had a hard time sinking threes in the first half, failing on both of their attempts. Senior forward Kamile Nacickaite ended that drought by hitting a three for Drexel’s first points in the second half.
The Dragons led for much of the second, but they couldn’t keep the Tigers from crawling their way back into the game. At the tail end of the second half, Mershon made a layup through the Towson defense to widen the Dragons’ lead to six points and effectively take the wind out of Towson’s sails. The Tigers still tried to mount a comeback but fell short as the Dragons held them off 58-53.
Nacickaite scored a game-high 19 points and seven rebounds against the Tigers while sophomore guard Fiona Flanagan scored 16 points and Mershon added 13.
The Dragons played their final home game of the season, also known as senior night, at the DAC Feb. 29 against conference rival Virginia Commonwealth University (16-13, 9-9 CAA). On this special occasion, the Dragons said goodbye to Nacickaite, guard Marissa Crane, forward Tyler Hale and guard Ayana Lee. There was more at stake than just sending the seniors off with a win — if the Dragons beat VCU and Hofstra University lost, Drexel would earn the league’s No. 3 seed. If the Dragons faltered, they would secure the No. 4 seed but still have a first-round bye.
Before the game, head coach Denise Dillon honored the graduating seniors and their families at center court.
“It’s unbelievable what they’ve done for this program and the success they’ve had in four years,” Dillon said in an interview after the game. “They came in and won a championship their freshman year, and their goal is to leave with a championship this year as well.”
During the ceremony the DAC Pack held up touching signs for the seniors, such as “Shut-down defender and hardest worker” for Lee, “Hale is the heart of the team,” and “Kamile Nacickaite: leading us to the postseason not one, not two, not three, but four times.”
The game got off to a fast start with both teams playing extremely aggressively on the inbound. As a result, Crane was forced to stretch the court and make some Hail Mary passes. With her first basket of the game, Nacickaite moved into fourth on the women’s basketball all-time leading scoring list.
Both teams traded buckets early with VCU controlling most of the play. The game was really a battle in the trenches in the first with the Dragons accumulating seven personal fouls and the Rams accumulating eight. The first half ended with the Drexel trailing VCU 27-30.
Drexel got back into the game by hitting three after three. Flanagan caught fire midway through the second half, hitting four threes in a row to bring the Dragons’ lead to 52-48. Right after Flanagan’s three-point explosion, VCU hit a three of its own, but Nacickaite came right back and scored a layup while she was getting fouled. She made the free throw to reestablish the Dragons’ four-point lead at 55-51. VCU didn’t let up and eventually came within one point with 2:17 remaining. It was Nacickaite again, on senior day, who put the dagger in the Rams’ hopes of a comeback with a big three. VCU fouled the rest of the game, and Drexel secured the victory 73-63.
“It was important for [the seniors] to get a win at our last home game at the DAC,” Nacickaite said. “I felt like all of the seniors went out hard and they played their best, and the rest of them followed us. We did our thing.”
“The basket just looked big to me in the second half, so it was easy to put the ball into it,” Flanagan said. “[It] felt great. We knew we were getting the shots; we just needed to believe in ourselves to make them. Shooting is contagious with the team, so once one of us starts making them, it’s easier for everyone else to put it in.”
Even with impressive offensive play, the defensive performance was not up to par for Dillon.
“I didn’t feel our defense was as aggressive as it needed to be, [and] we weren’t containing where we needed, but it was close enough [at the half],” Dillon said. “It was a three-point game at that point, and I felt if we could just make some shots to break away a little bit, … so it was a matter of who would get two baskets in a row and one stop, would come out on top.”
Dillon does feel good about the upcoming CAA Tournament. She said that “anything could happen” during the tournament, and she’s confident that her team can make a run.
“I feel what we have executed on the offensive and defensive end, [and] we’re prepared for any team we may face,” Dillon continued. “Now with the girls understanding what the coaches are looking for from them, I feel more prepared.”
The next task for Drexel is the CAA Tournament, which will take place March 8-11 in Marlboro, Md.