The Drexel women’s basketball team followed their tough loss against Long Island University with two big wins Nov. 18 and 19 against Detroit and Akron, respectively, in Akron, Ohio to close out the Preseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Keeping the momentum going, the Dragons took down the University of Pittsburgh in a promising defeat Nov. 26 in Pittsburgh. But just days later they suffered a difficult loss close to home against the St. Joseph’s Hawks Nov. 29 in Philadelphia.
After falling to LIU, head coach Denise Dillon and her coaching staff gave their team a wakeup call that evidently worked. Going into their consolation match against Detroit, the Dragons were off to a rocky start. They knew to stay focused and were determined to pull out their first win of the season.
The Titans snagged a quick lead early on and went up 11-4 just three minutes into the contest, but they couldn’t hold it for long. Shortly after Detroit’s scoring frenzy, the Dragons had a run of their own. With one of their star players, Kamile Nacickaite, benched for early fouls, the team stepped up and scored 13 straight points, stealing the lead right back from the Titans.
Some of the key players to contribute to Drexel’s run were Taylor Wootton, who would finish the contest with 14 points; Tyler Hale, who would also finish with 14 points; and Hollie Mershon.
“Taylor Wootton and Tyler Hale have become more involved on the offensive end,” Dillon said. “For us to be successful, we need three scores in double figures.”
The productive offense wasn’t Drexel’s only strong suit of the day — it was also their dominating defense. Leading the defensive pack was sophomore guard Fiona Flanagan, who entered the game when Nacickaite was benched. She held off the Titans, who typically excel on their offense, and gave her team breathing room to move the ball down the court. Assisting with the defense was also redshirt-freshman Jackie Schluth, Hale and Wootton.
As the game came close to the end, the Titans weaseled their way within three points of the Dragons’ lead. But Drexel didn’t let the pressure overcome them. Instead they remained calm, continued scoring and earned their first win of the season, 61-56.
Just a day later, the Dragons defeated Akron 67-60 with help from Nacickaite. She was off the bench and back on the court doing what she does best — putting points on the board.
Similar to their game against Detroit, the Dragons fell into an early deficit of eight points. Even though Drexel wasn’t offensively prominent in the first half, shooting just 26.9 percent from the floor, they kept themselves in the game with strong coverage defensively. They finished the half down 24-19 but outrebounded Akron 22-18 and managed to bring themselves within just five points of the Zips.
Coming out of halftime, Drexel entered the game with one goal in mind — to win. Nacickaite scored a career-high 33 points, 25 of which were scored during the second half. Along with the 25 points that Nacickaite put up, her teammates combined added 23 points, totaling 48, which is the most points the Dragons have scored in the second half this season.
Though it was a tight battle, the Dragons closed out the game, giving themselves the ego boost they needed to face Pitt.
Entering their third road game of the season, the Dragons were coming off a high note and were ready to scorch the Panthers.
Nacickaite came out on fire, hitting a three-pointer in the game’s first minute. That was just the start for the talented senior. She scored 13 of Drexel’s first 15 points against the Panthers and finished the game with a total of 23 points — the largest amount any player has scored against Pitt since last January. Maya Moore of Connecticut put up 28.
Joining her in double figures were Mershon, Wooton and Hale, who also earned the team’s first double-double of the year with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Once again the Dragons used their strong suit against Pitt, their defense. The team held the Panthers to just 33.3 percent of shots from the floor during the game.
The Dragons made their mark against the Panthers and closed the game just shy of 20 points ahead at 71-50.
“Pitt was a great road win,” Dillon said. “They have a successful program in one of the top conferences in the country. We came out focused with great understanding of our game plan.”
Finally, Drexel competed against neighboring competitor St. Joe’s. Unfortunately the Hawks cut the Dragons’ winning streak short, as Drexel fell 59-50 on the Hawks’ turf.
Although the Dragons were in the competition early on, they were unable to keep up with the Hawks as they took an 8-0 run and didn’t let Drexel get back in the game.
“We missed some easy looks early, which led to missed defensive assignments,” Dillon said. “We continued to play disruptive and forced some tough shots as opposed to working together to create easier scoring opportunities.”
Mershon contributed half of the points scored during the first half, putting up 10 of their 20 points. She finished the game with a team-high 20.
Coming into the second half, the Dragons trailed 20-31. Though they outrebounded the Hawks 42-36, they couldn’t make up for their lack of offensive consistency.
Up next, the Dragons face their first conference competition against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
“Sunday’s game against UNCW is our biggest game of the year,” Dillon said. “We play our out-of-conference games to prepare us for the CAA. We need to be ready for their defensive pressure and their ability to score the ball quickly. Transition Defense and executing our half-court offense will be our main focus at practice this week.”
The Dragons will face the Seahawks at 1 p.m. Dec. 4 in Wilmington, N.C.