Coming off a 20-day break from competition, head coach Denise Dillon and the Drexel women’s basketball team had three more out-of-conference games before beginning competition against Colonial Athletic Association teams. The Dragons started off with a 77-50 victory against the city rival University of Pennsylvania Dec. 21 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Following the match against Penn, the Dragons had another home match against American University Dec. 28. The closely contested match went in favor of American, as the Dragons couldn’t close the gap of American’s early lead. Senior Hollie Mershon had an outstanding game against American, recording a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. The problem for Dillon’s team against American was that Mershon was the only scorer in double digits. The Dragons had a hard time getting scoring from other outlets. Freshman Rachel Pearson and senior Taylor Wootton were the next two top scorers, with nine and eight points, respectively.
Following the loss to American, the Dragons went on the road to Princeton, N.J., to face the Tigers of Princeton University. This would be the Dragons’ final regular-season out-of-conference game. The Dragons were done in by uncharacteristic turnovers and fell to the Tigers 74-59 on New Year’s Eve.
“We made mistakes in the games against American and Princeton that we weren’t accustomed to making early on in the season,” Dillon said.
Mershon led the Dragons again with 14 points, while freshman Meghan Creighton chipped in 11 points. Senior Nicki Jones had eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks. The Tigers never trailed in the game. At one stretch the Dragons had nine consecutive turnovers, which fueled a 9-0 run by Princeton. That run allowed Princeton to take a 22-12 advantage and never look back. The loss to Princeton dropped the women’s team to 7-4 on the young season and closed the out-of-conference portion of the schedule.
“The out-of-conference schedule helped us a lot because it shows we can play against top-25 teams, and if we play them well then we should play every team the way we play [the University of South Carolina],” Wootton said about the importance of their out-of-conference schedule.
The Dragons returned to the DAC Jan. 6 for their CAA opener against Towson University. Dillon saw an all-around performance from her team, as everyone contributed to the 76-55 victory. Mershon led the team with 20 points, but it was Wootton who was a big presence for the Dragons throughout the game. Wootton scored six of the Dragons’ first 11 points and finished with 14 points and five rebounds. Junior Fiona Flanagan added 13 points, while Creighton had a career-high seven assists in her first CAA game.
The game was special to the Dragons because they honored the victims of the shooting that took place in Newtown, Conn., at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Drexel players wore T-shirts that said “Sandy Hook” for warm-ups and throughout the game.
Opening up the CAA schedule with a win was a huge boost for a team that had lost two consecutive games. It also showed Dillon what her team is capable of when everyone is contributing. However, Dillon also knows that they will face tougher teams on the schedule, and her team still has to improve.
“Rebounding is our No. 1 thing we have to improve. We don’t need to outrebound everyone, but we need to get our offensive rebounds and not let teams get second chances,” Dillon said.
The Drexel women heeded their coach’s advice in the next game at James Madison University Jan. 10. Rebounding was a key factor in the Dragons’ ability to sneak out a 48-46 victory in Harrisonburg, Va. Down by nine at the half, Mershon led the Dragons to a comeback victory. Mershon scored 17 of her game-high 20 points in the second half. Senior Renee Johnson-Allen had nine points and a career-high eleven rebounds in the victory. The Dragons never led in the game until Mershon sank two crucial free throws with four seconds remaining in the game to give the Dragons their only lead of the game. In order to get shoot the free throws, Jones grabbed an offensive rebound on which she was fouled.
The ability to grab a rebound at a crucial time in the game is what Dillon has been expecting from this team. Against the Dukes, the Dragons proved they were tough enough to make the plays that count when it matters. The victory moved the Dragons to 2-0 within the CAA for the first time since 2009. The Dragons will look for their third consecutive victory against the University of North Carolina Wilmington on Sunday in Wilmington, N.C.