Guru's College Game: Penn Tunes Out Drexel On Baron's Shot
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA – On a day when her uncle Jeff belted out a stirring operatic rendition of the national anthem at The Palestra, Penn senior Alyssa Baron and the Quakers finished on an equally impressive high note Saturday afternoon when she scored the winning basket with 2.6 seconds left in regulation for a 46-44 triumph over neighborhood rival Drexel.
When Penn (5-2) goes into dramatics, the performance isn’t over till Baron takes the last shot.
It was her three-pointer at the buzzer last March at The Palestra that got Penn past Fairfield 49-48 to move to the semifinals of the postseason Women’s Basketball Invitational.
Two seasons ago, incidentally, Penn topped the Dragons 67-65 in overtime in The Palestra but the Dragons (4-7) avenged that one up the street at home last year with a lopsided 77-50 victory at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Unlike her uncle, Baron had an unusual time trying to find the right chord most of the game and was just 1-for-14 when she went inside for the winner that enabled Penn to take its fifth straight and set a team record by eclipsing a 19-point deficit that existed in the first half in the annual Battle of 33rd Street where the universities are just a few blocks apart.
Freshman Sydney Stipanovich had another outstanding game in tying Delaware’s red-shirt sophomore Joy Caracciolo with a season-high 19 rebounds among players in the 10-team PhilahoopsW group that comprise the Guru’s local Division I coverage.
Stipanovich also had a team-high 14 points while Kathleen Roche had all 11 of her points in the second half and spurred the comeback with 3-for-3 on three-point attempts at critical moments.
Baron still got things done defensively with 10 rebounds.
“I kind of struggled throughout the afternoon but my teammates were there to pick me up and ‘Coach (Mike McLaughlin) trusted me with the last shot,” said Baron, who leads Penn with a 16.2 points per game average and is a two-time Ivy League scoring champion.
“Our defense is what carries us, especially in the second half we picked up the intensity and were able to get stops and get easy baskets and pound it inside to Kara (Bonenberger) and Sydney and Kathleen was able to get some big threes.”
Bragging rights were certainly a motivator for Penn, which has tied a team record for best start in seven games and have won five straight nonconference games for the first time since 2000-01, though that streak will be challenged on New Year’s Day when Baron gets a homecoming visit in Miami when Penn visits the Hurricanes.
But for the moment, the talk of home was about the neighborhood rivalry.
“It’s a big honor to take this one,” Baron said. “All summer it’s all friendly but once you get on the court here in the regular season, not so much.”
For Drexel, it was déjà vu all over again just three days apart when the Dragons squandered a 14-point halftime lead at home on Wednesday losing at the finish to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference power Hampton 50-47 after a costly turnover deprived coach Denise Dillon’s group a chance to extend the game.
Despite all the Penn struggles, Drexel freshman Alexis Smith off the bench was the lone Dragon in double figures with 13 points.
Both teams shot poorly in the first half but several spurts, including a 13-0 run, carried Drexel to a 26-7 lead with 4 minutes, 33 seconds left in the period.
But Penn, which outscored the Dragons 15-2 on second chance points and 12-4 in points off turnovers, was able to finish out with a 10-0 run into the break.
“Going in under 10 “(points) was a big boost for us,” McLaughlin said. “We never got a run out, we never got an easy one. That credit goes to Drexel because they really jammed us inside, forcing us to make a couple of shots from the perimeter. We didn’t make a whole lot, but we did make enough.”
After drawing closer in the second half, Stipanovich’s putback tied the score with 1:31 left. The Quakers then stopped the Dragons, failed to take advantage, and then stopped Drexel again.
McLaughlin then went to his playmaker with 14.0 seconds left and Baron responded by going to her right, seeing an opening near the baseline and taking a running jumper for the winning score.
“The key to the game, (Drexel) is so well schooled, we didn’t want to play in a halfcourt game,” McLaughlin rehashed the chronology of the afternoon.
“That’s what they did in the first half. Their zone was very good. We worked very hard on it. We didn’t make shots and give them credit for that,” McLaughlin said.
“The second half, we were a little more assertive, a little more aggressive with some ball pressure, and we switched to a zone that was a little helpful to us,” he continued.
“Once the ball started going in the basket, it really gave us some more confidence because we couldn’t score for a while. We showed s bit of maturity. We got down five late (in the second half), we knew it was two possessions and we did a good job executing it. This group has played a lot together by now in close games.”
Penn was picked third in the Ivy forecast while Drexel was picked second in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“They took a lot of things away from us,” McLaughlin said. “I have so much respect for what Denise does at Drexel. We have great camaraderie and I pull for her in every game but this. I know this is tough but she does an amazing job.”
It was tough enough that Dillon was on her way home pretty quickly.
However, since the Hampton loss wasn’t reported here Wednesday, what Dillon had to say then would have most likely been repeated Saturday considering the flow of both games were similar.
“We can’t score and pure panic sets in,” Dillon said at the time. “Nobody wants the basketball and then … It’s unbelievable. I don’t even know what to say.
“We have one player, Meg Creighton, who can execute an offense. She’s the only one who can handle pressure in the full court, but then you’re asking her to make a play at the end. That’s a lot to do and that’s not her strength. But unfortunately she’s the one player most often the ball is safe in her hands,” Dillon continued.
“Rachel Pearson is playing well.”
“You would have thought the win at St. John’s (a week ago) would be a confidence booster. But we don’t score and panic. And we don’t have the one person to say, `Hey, I gotcha.’ Put them on your back and go.
“Unfortunately, she (Hollie Mershon) graduated. And the one before that, and the one before that. And they’re all playing professionally for a reason.”
Looking ahead to Penn at that moment, she said, “You shoot that poorly in your place, how poorly are you going to shoot down there?”
After the break, Drexel heads to Ivy member Cornell on Dec. 30 and then hosts Princeton, the four-time defending Ivy champion, on Jan. 4.
Then it’s on to the CAA wars the rest of the way.
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