Guru Report: Drexel Bench Presses Way To CAA Win Over Georgia State
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA – Somewhere between the end of 2010 and the start of 2011 the Drexel women’s basketball team’s well-oiled machine began to severely sputter heading into Thursday night’s Colonial Athletic Association encounter against Georgia State at the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center.
The chain of gruesome circumstances began Thursday on the West Coast trip at San Diego State when starting point guard Marisa Crane suffered an ACL injury during the game with powerful Texas A&M.
The Dragons won the consolation game of the Aztecs’ tournament against Texas-San Antonio but then fell at Sunday’s conference opener at UNC-Wilmington, which marked the CAA debut of new Seahawks coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke.
On Wednesday during practice preparing for the game against the Panthers, reserve freshman forward Jackie Schluth, a graduate of Bishop Eustace, also suffered an ACL.
And then Thursday afternoon during the shootaround, spot starting forward Tyler Hale collided with senior Jasmina Rosseel and was ruled out of action.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Denise Dillon said in an exasperation tone during the pregame warm up. “I have no idea what is going to happen next.”
Well, how about things getting further imperiled once the game began.
Rosseel, a native of Belgium whose parents were in the building to watch their daughter for the first time since she enrolled at Drexel, became basically ineffectual and had scored just three points off a 1-for-5 effort from the field courtesy of a single three-point shot in the first half.
Kamile Nacickaite, one of the most improved players in the city as well as the CAA, had seven points but had seen better halves this season. She finished with 12.
Toss in the fact that although Georgia State’s Sharon Baldwin-Tener, a graduate of Southeastern Conference power Georgia, was new as coach of the Panthers, she delivered an unhappy ending to the Dragons last season when as coach of East Carolina, she guided the Pirates to a double-overtime win over the Dragons in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament that closed the prolific scoring career of then-senior Gabriela Marginean.
While the schedule said it was only the second CAA game of the season, tight as the race for the regular season crown is expected to be meant it was imperative for Drexel to win Thursday night in advance of Sunday’s home contest against local CAA rival Delaware.
Mix all these elements and the result was a first-class disaster in the first half with Drexel shooting 25.8 percent and trailing by as much as nine points with 3 minutes, 11 seconds until the break.
Despite it all, some hope shone through with a rally to cut the deficit to five points at 25-20 at the half.
That hope was quickly dashed when the two main engines – Nacickaite and Rosseel each missed three point attempts and Nacickaite also missed a jumper and committed a turnover in Drexel’s first two possessions.
When Chan Harris stole the ball and scored a layup off a steal of Nacickaite, Dillon had seen enough with her team behind 27-20 following another miss, this time by Taylor Wootton.
With two minutes and 10 seconds, she cleared the bench, inserting sophomore guard Hollie Mershon, redshirt freshman guard Ashley Davis, freshman forward Tory Thierolf, and freshman guard Fiona Flanagan.
“It becomes a lesson athat point, it was no longer about wins and losses,” Dillon said. “We have too many games left in the season to allow stagnant basketball. To allow just playing sluggish.”
The result was spectacular. Mershon, a graduate of Archbishop Carroll, finished with a career-high 18 points, shooting 7-for-10 and 4-of- 7 three points, Thierolf had a career-high eight points and the Germantown Academy graduate was perfect beyond the arc shooting 2-for-2, while Davis and Flanagan contributed the defensive effort as Drexel rallied for a 56-46 victory to improve to 9-4 overall and even things up at 1-1 in the CAA.
Kendra Long had 17 points and Harris scored 16 for Georgia State (5-8, 0-2).
“We just came in playing not for ourselves but for our teammates,” Mershon said. “We have three people out, three crucial people, so we all know we had to step it up and we really needed to focus on the defensive end and set a tone.
“I did feel an urgency. We really weren’t setting a tone on the defensive end. We took advantage of our opportunities to the fullest. Once we started hitting shots, getting steals and getting rebounds, the confidence just kept growing and growing.
“I just got out there to do what I could do – be a leader. We had a few freshmen out there. I just tried to be a leader and talk.”
Dillon looked back on the sequence of events leading into the game.
“I was just looking for us to come out and play hard,” she said. “Unfortunately, we came out sluggish, thinking too much, afraid to make mistakes for fear of losing is my assumption of the whole thing.
“So I’m just extremely proud of rotation, getting players who hadn’t seen a lot of minutes but made the most of it, and embraced the opportunity, and understand giving everything they have for this program and helping us to continue to win no matter what kind of setbacks we had.”
As far as motivation for making the wholesale changes, Dillon said:
“It was just an instinctional thing. I was so fed up watching what was going on out there. In the first half, I was thinking, `Let me try to rotate some more people in.’ But you were kind of just letting them play through. Hoping the emotions would pass. But as soon as the second half started, and we continued the same, I just couldn’t allow it to happen.”
Dillon then sounded as if she had engaged in a chat with athletic director Eric Zillmer, who also does prominent work in psychology.
“At this point it is an emotional thing. At this point in the year we’re not tired. Yes we’ll get there. But when you’re mentally tired than it starts effecting you physically.
“I would have kept them out there (the rest of the way), but now they were getting physically tired. You could see it on Renee Johnson-Allen, because they were working so hard. What we are here, we established ourselves early as a hard-working defensive team.
“Well, we weren’t doing that. We weren’t making hustle plays. That group started getting hustle plays. And when you do that on the defensive end it leads to offensive end. All they did on the offensive end was running the same plays how many years. It wasn’t just how many months. They just did what we’ve been asking them to do all year.”
That leads to Sunday’s showdown with Delaware. A year ago the two longtime rivals played a pair of exciting down-to-the-wire games both won by the Dragons although the Blue Hens finally put a stop to Drexel’s recent success in the series by winning narrowly in the CAA tournament quarterfinals.
The game at Drexel was a first-ever women’s sellout for the Dragons, fueled by the appearance of then-freshman sensation Elena Delle Donne, the 2008 national high school player of the year out of Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy who went on to win both the CAA most valuable player and rookie of the year awards.
But Delle Donne has been sidelined with a nerve condition in her back and she was set to see a spine specialist this week. Her readiness has been termed day-to-day. There’s no word yet whether she might return Sunday.
Drexel has since graduated Marginean and will be down at least two players and a third if Hale isn’t cleared.
“We’re definitely missing players,” Dillon said about the unknown factors approaching Sunday. “That’s how it should be. That’s how the teams have to prepare. The ones you have playing, the ones I have at practice tomorrow I will coach – the ones Tina (Martin) has, she will coach and we just prepare them for the next game and hope they listen and do what you’re asking them to do the best they can.”
Dillon praised Mershon’s effort.
“She understood she was the most experienced player on the floor at that time and just stayed and used that experience to help run the offenses and pick up the intensity on defensive end. She took advantage when her number was called.
“Tory is capable of knocking down shots. With Tory it’s just trying to figure out, is she going to be capable of guarding post players or guards. She’s a very smart player and that is why she can make up for some of that physical setback – just understanding the game so well.
“She averaged a lot of points in high school. She knows how to put the ball in the basket.”
Delaware Coach Makes School History
Playing again without Delle Donne, who had been the nation’s leading scorer, for the fifth straight game and virtually seventh overall, the Blue Hens won at Northeastern 61-51 in Boston to make coach Tina Martin the winningest in the program’s history at 267.
Overall, Martin, a former Seton Hall assistant, in her 15th season after moving from Newark, N.J. (actually South Orange) to Newark, Del., is 267-165.
She passed the victory total of Joyce Perry, who passed away last year after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Martin’s first win came in on Nov. 22,1996 against in-state rival Delaware State. Perry reached her win total in 18 seasons before Martin succeeded her in charge of the Blue Hens, who first played during the 1971-72 season.
“That’s a great win on the road,” said Martin of the Blue Hens (9-4, 2-0 CAA) beating the Huskies (5-8, 0-2) in conference play Thursday night for the 17th straight win against Northeastern.
“These kids are playing hard,” Martin said of the Blue Hens who started conference play Sunday, rallying from an early 16-point deficit in the second half. “Our defense is doing a really nice job. I think rebounding wise, these kids are hungry.”
Lauren Carra, who scored 29 in the Sunday win, scored 20 against Northeastern while Danielle Parker scored 16 points.
Elsewhere in the CAA, in a game of note, Hofstra (9-4, 1-1) snapped a three-game losing streak in winning a conference game at home 66-56 in Hempstead, N.Y. as Nicole Capurso scored 17 points and West Chester Henderson High graduate Shante Evans scored 16 against the Tigers (6-7, 0-2).
James Madison improved to 2-0 in the CAA, winning at William & Mary, 89-75, while host Old Dominion stayed perfect at 2-0 barely beating George Mason 70-66. Virginia Commonwealth stopped UNC-Wilmington 70-58 in Richmond as Courtney Hurt tied a VCU scoring record with 35 points.
Penn State Conquers The Midwest
Actually, the Nittany Lions (13-4, 2-1 Big Ten) ruled suburban Chicago, beating Northwestern 80-68 in a conference game in Evanston, Ill., as Alex Bentley scored 24 points and freshman Maggie Lucas scored 20. The Wildcats fell to 12-4 overall and 1-2 in the conference as former George Washington coach Joe McKeown, a Father Judge graduate from Philadelphia, continues to make strides in his third season at Northwestern.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Purdue ended Michigan’s early run of upsets in conference play, beating the Wolverines 65-64, while No. Michigan State handled visiting Wisconsin, 62-43.
Duke Tops Terps To Stay Unbeaten
In the marquee game of the night, No. 3 Duke (15-0, 1-0 ACC) rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat No. 14 Maryland 71-64 in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener in Durham, N.C.
Kim Rodgers had a career-high 18 points for the Terrapins (13-2, 0-1), while Jasmine Thomas again became a closer for the Blue Devils with 7 of her 22 points down the stretch.
There were plenty of interesting results in the ACC elsewhere beginning with host Georgia Tech topping No. 8 North Carolina 71-70 in Atlanta.
Tyaunna Marshall scored 24 points for the Yellow Jackets (13-4) in their conference opener.
“Nothing they did surprised us,” Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said.
When you’re up seven with a minute to go you’re not supposed to lose,” Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell they (15-1) suffered their first loss of the season, which occurredin a conference opener. “But this is probably an indication how the ACC will be.”
Italee Lucas scored 24 for North Carolina.
No. 24 Florida State (13-3, 1-0) easily won at Virginia Tech 79-48, while in a double test for both teams Miami (15-1, 1-0 ACC) won at Virginia 82-73 as the Cavaliers fell to 10-6 overall and lost their ACC opener.
Shenise Johnson scored 30 points for the Hurricanes and Riquana Williams scored 22 as the Miami duo maintained their mark as the top two scorers in the ACC.
Clemson edged North Carolina State 76-74.
One ACC school in nonconference play – host Boston College -- battled local rival Harvard of the Ivy League to an 80-78 win in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Staley Guides South Carolina To SEC Upset of LSU
The host Gamecocks in Columbia rallied from an 18-point deficit that existed in the first half to beat the Tigers 63-61 when Ieasia Walker hit two foul shots with two seconds left in regulation.
LSU fell to 10-6 overall and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference. The winners improved to 9-6 overall and 1-1in the SEC.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who previously had revived Temple’s fortunes in her native Philadelphia, bested LSU’s Van Chancellor for whom she played in her final Olympics in Athens, Greece, 2004. She also played for him with the former Houston Comets in her final seasons with the WNBA.
“This might have been as tough a loss as I’ve been through,” Chancellor said afterwards. “We were up 20-4 and proceeded to turn the ball over and couldn’t make a shot.
“When you get a lead you still have to make plays. They did a great job shooting the three ball. We had them where we wanted them and we quit doing the things that got us there. This is a real disappointing loss. We couldn’t execute under pressure.”
South Carolina departed from a 14-game losing streak in the series dating to the 1998 SEC tournament. The Gamecocks, who had five players score in double figures for the first time this season, hadn’t beaten the Tigers in Columbia since 1993.
In another SEC upset, No. 25 Arkansas (13-1, 1-1 SEC) at home in Fayetteville handed No. 10 Kentucky 78-67, dropping the Wildcats to 11-3 overall in their Sec opener. Kentucky earlier in the week lost at Duke.
C’eira Ricketts scored 19 points for the victorious Razorbacks while Victoria Dunlap scored 26 for the Wildcats.
No. 5 Tennessee (14-2, 2-0 SEC) romped to an easy 110-45 win over Alabama (11-4, 0-2) in a conference win at home in Knoxville.
Philly U. Coach Nears 600 Wins
Locally, in a Division II result, Philadelphia University topped host Georgian Court 82-52 as Kate Brennan scored 20 points and moved coach Tom Shirley to within a victory of the 600th of his career.
Shirley can reach the plateau with a win Saturday at Felician University in Lodi, N.J., near the Meadowlands. It’s the same site he won his 500th victory. The Guru will return to the scene of his technological nightmare that night to chronicle the milestone if it occurs for print in another guest staring role.
He had originally planned to be at Rutgers hosting Villanova tough some wise guys will say the proximately of the game near Rutgers makes it possible to run between the two without missing any of the scoring at Rutgers.