Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Guru CAA Tourney Report: Drexel Rallies Over Delaware in Overtime and Elon Bests JMU in Semifinals

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA — Just as teams in conference tournaments get to revisit rivals they’ve seen all season, the Drexel women’s basketball squad in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament here in its Daskalakis Athletic Center is reprising the various ways the Dragons have navigated their way with massive wipeouts and stirring comebacks.

After performing in UConn style Thursday in the quarterfinals to put away UNCW, Drexel went for the dramatic, heartbeating flair Friday afternoon playing catch-up, throwing down defensive gauntlets, letting it all slip away, and finally hoisting themselves back on top of the ledge to beat Delaware 58-53 in overtime to move to Saturday’s championship contest at 1 p.m., needing just one more win for a second trophy and an NCAA appearance for the first time since 2008-09.

It was the first overtime game in the tournament since 2010. When Drexel won their only other CAA crown, it was on the road with the Dragons in the semifinals ending Old Dominion’s 17-year rule of the tournament and then the next day knocking off host James Madison.

This time they have a chance to win at home. This is the first time Drexel has hosted the tournament and it’s the furthest the event has been up north, replacing Newark, Delaware, an hour to the South.

The Blue Hens will host the CAA tourney at their Bob Carpenter Center.

Overtime is Drexel time this season with the Dragons going 3-0 in the three games involving extra periods in the conference this season.

“I’m extremely proud of the team’s fight today,” Drexel coach Denise Dillon, a former Villanova star, said. “I was telling the team in the timeouts, `We’ll find a way.’ Start fo finish, it wasn’t pretty but we found a way.

“Here we are. Opportunity at home. Playing for the championship, this is exactly the plan that we set.”

To this point, coach Dillon’s bunch has built and cashed in all the perks made possible dating to two years ago when the CAA decided to leave the neutral surroundings of The Show Place Arena, used primarily for equestrian events, in Upper Marlboro, Md., near Washington, and return to home courts with the DAC named for this year’s event.

Despite a young squad at the outset, Drexel has yet to lose here in 15 starts since opening in November and went 16-2 in CAA play to tie preseason favorite James Madison for first and then aided by a strong non-conference schedule, had a better RPI to take the No. 1 seed.

That alone paid off based on what happened in the second game Friday when the second-seeded Dukes were dismantled by defending tourney champion Elon, the second seed, 76-53, to beat JMU 12 months after a 78-60 win in the title game of the Duke’s arena in Harrisonburg, Va.

Being able to sidestep playing both of the teams to gain the NCAAs, the order will be tough enough overcoming a Phoenix squad (24-7) that the Dragons (26-6) split with during the season.
And likely they will have to deal without senior Sara Woods, who 45 seconds from the end of overtime, went down with an apparent knee injury.

Her condition was not known but Dillon just said about playing Elon, “we’ll just have to develop a scheme and see what we can do.”

In the win here over Elon, whose campus is near Greensboro, N.C., Drexel set a program record rallying from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to get a 58-56 victory in late January, the biggest comeback since the NCAA changed from 20-minute halves to four ten-minute quarters three years ago.

But all that pales beside the latest in the history of the local wars between these two CAA members that just recently saw the Drexel men here set an NCAA record by erasing an early 34-point lead to top the Blue Hens.

And then on the Drexel side there have been heartbreaking losses regular season and in the tournament with the famed Blue Hens great Elena Delle Donne delivering buzzer beating game-winners.

In fact Saturday while it was the Dragons’ turn to deliver the ultimate pain it also became the first time Drexel (26-6) downed Delaware (19-12), which is the fifth seed, in the tournament in six meetings.

In both meetings this season, resulting in a sweep by the Dragons, Dillon’s contingent had sizeable wins of 74-53 here in late December to start the CAA schedule and 72-53 last week at the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

But any notion that there would be more of the same was dispelled quickly when Delaware jumped to a 10-point lead before Drexel made a few shots to reduce the deficit to six with 38 seconds left courtesy of sophomore Bailey Greenberg’s three-ball.

At that instant, the momentum swung in Drexel’s direction as the Dragons got their defensive act together and Delaware had begun a drought of 14-missed shots across the two quarters, enabling the Dragons to go ahead 24-20.

An 11-1 second quarter set a CAA tournament record for the least productive performance  or best defensive stand in points allowance depending on which team you prefer.

“We just played them a week ago,” Dillon said. “We watched them play yesterday and they really turned the heat up on Northeastern but our response wasn’t great.

“And I found once our offense was struggling, our defense was lagging, and that’s something we addressed immediately. We talked about it all year. Why are we in this position? Defensive rebounding.

“Sure enough we went out in the second quarter and set the tone. We didn’t allow those field goals. It was certainly a long game, we played 45 minutes, but it was that second quarter that gave us any chance of winning.”

Delaware, which in the quarterfinals Thursday, avenged a season sweep by fourth-seeded Northeastern, missed one more shot at the start of the third until the Blue Hens began to gain a slight hold and go to a 37-34 lead with one 10-minute quarter to go in regulation.

With 6:13 to go, Samone DeFreese hit a layup for the Hens and a six-point lead and things were beginning to look pretty good for first year coach Natasha Adair, who previously coached Georgetown in the Big East, and Charleston in the CAA.

In fact, way back this season, after her arrival, the team donned bracelets with the imprint 3-10-18, the day of the championship game here.

While it didn’t call for winning the whole shebang, getting to the championship game would be the first time for Delaware since 2014, losing to JMU the first year after the end of the Delle Donne era with the second of back-to-back titles.

Not so fast, said Drexel reserve Niki Metzel, who hit a three-pointer, only the second of her career, though Bailey Kargo then got it up to five points with a pair of foul shots for the Hens with 3:34 left.

Aubree Brown’s layup for Drexel cut it to three with 2:16 left in regulation.

A DeFreese turnover and a Kelsi Lidge layup for Drexel got it back to a point but that gain was then countered by Justina Mascaro for a Blue Hens 46-43 lead with 1:04 left.

Then senior Lidge, a member of the All-CAA second team, scored to make it a one-point deficit again with 37 seconds left.

Drexel forced another turnover and Lidge went 1-2 from the line and it was tied 46-46 with 21 seconds left.

Nicole Enabosi, the CAA  player of the year, went for the game-winner with three seconds left, the ball missed and Drexel’s Woods grabbed the rebound.

Then after a 30-second timeout Lidge drew a blank with three seconds left and it was on to overtime.

“This hurts,” said Enabosi, who said she was good with the shot she took to win it in regulation. “Drexel is a great team.  I think we were prepared both mentally and physically for this game.

“We played our hearts out and so did Drexel. Overall, we played Delaware basketball, but came out a little short in the end.”

Drexel’s defense began to take hold again after the two teams exchanged turnovers, the Dragons forced the ball back their way and Brown hit two free throws for a lead that would never be overcome.

But time was still available to keep contesting from both sides.

Another Delaware turnover and a Greenberg layup for the home team made it 50-46 with 2:33 left.

Two fouls shots by the Hens closed it to 50-48 and then Lidge got the lead stretched to four points 52-48 with 1:53 remaining in the overtime.

The Drexel D struck again, causing another cough up, and the Dragons expanded the differential to six at 54-48 with 1:18 left.

Yet another ensuing turnover got it to Drexel’s biggest lead at 55-48 with 56 seconds left as Nihill went 1-2 from the line.

Enabosi reduced it to 55-50 with a pair of free throws with 45 seconds to go in the extra period.

That’s when Woods went  down, fouling on the play.

Delaware didn’t score and then Brown went 1-2 on the line to make it 56-50 with 42 seconds to go.

Kiersten West turned it over for Delaware and Megan Marecic went to the line going 1-2 and a 57-50 lead.

Abby Gonzales gave Delaware some fading hope with a triplet to slice the deficit to four 57-53 with 13 seconds left.

Drexel’s Brown turned it over as the clock wound down but Rebecca Lawrence missed a three-ball and Brown got the rebound and went to the line with four seconds left to go 1-2 again for the final point and on to the championship.

“It’s just a read and react defense,” Dillon said of the defensive pressure late in the game. “And when you have a team that has great chemistry, you definitely take advantage of that. It’s usually disruptive and our defense created offense, definitely a must for us.”

Dexel forced 26 turnovers while committing 18 and had a 23-16 advantage on points off turnovers. The Dragons outrebounded the Blue Hens 46-36, including 20-9 on the offensive glass and though Delaware led in second chance points, 14-8, the ability to maintain possessions allowed the Dragons to chalk up more time to control the clock.

Greenberg had a team-high 13 points, Lidge and Brown scored 11, each, and Woods, who got hurt in the final minute of the overtime, had a double double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Brown and Woods each had five steals.

DeFreese had a double double for Delaware with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Gonzales scored 14.

In all three meetings, Drexel has managed to limit Enabosi, who has had double doubles most times when Delaware has taken the floor.

On Friday, she had 11 points and eight rebounds and blocked four shots.

Greenberg drew the defensive assignment on Enabosi.

“It’s a great challenge,” Dillon said. “To go up against Nicole. She’s a force to be reckoned with around the basket, attacking the basket, and Bailey is now familiar with her playing with her her second year facing her many times.

“She realizes the importance of getting her out of position and contesting many shots. The biggest thing is the rebounding — Nicole does a nice job on rhe boards following up her shot, I think the biggest thing is our disruption, trying to double and switching the screens came into play.”

Once again, the Drexel bench reinforced the starters.

“It’s been the biggest thing this year,” Dillon said. “Having players in the rotation, every day, they’re seeing the same thing practice, they compete against each other, and they don’t know when their number is going to be called, but when it is, they have to be ready.

“There’s no time to think at this point. It has to be read and react defense, just wanting the ball at the offensive end, I was pleased to be able to get Ana (Ferariu) in as well (three rebounds). That’s what it’s about, playing team basketball.”

The worst case for Drexel, should the Dragons not finish out, is their finish atop the standings guarantees an appearance in the Women’s NIT, which the Dragons won several years ago.

Delaware is hopeful of at least one more game, also in the WNIT, and the Blue Hens’ play after a ragged start in the CAA might warrant that selection.

“I just told my team, I wouldn’t want to be in any other lockerroom, what they have given our team, our program all year,” said Adair of the way her players came together.

“They’re a very, very good team,” Adair said of Drexel. “There are some things throughout the game we wish we could have changed. Down the stretch, turnovers killed us.

“This was obviously not the outcome we wanted, but it was absolutely the fight I want to see. The team made the University of Delaware very proud today,” Adair said. “The ultimate goal is to get the win, but I’m not going to walk out of here with my head down and my players aren’t either.

“But right now, we’re hurting because we were so close. And close isn’t enough. We don’t celebrate moral victories but I am very proud of this team.”

Elon Dominates James Madison

By seed, it’s an upset, considering that James Madison and Drexel finished two games in front of the Phoenix in the final standings. The difference were Phoenix upset losses to Delaware and William & Mary besides the splits with JMU and Drexel.

But on the court, judging the way these two teams have gone against each other in recent seasons, Elon, with it’s 76-53 win over the Dukes, has become a force since joining the CAA in 2014-15, moving over from the Southern Conference and previously was a member of the Big South.

The Phoenix are coached by former North Carolina star Charlotte Smith, who in 1994 made the famed buzzer-beating three-point shot that felled Louisiana Tech for the NCAA championship.

An uncle is former N.C. State men’s star David Thompson.

The only thing in this one resembling the nail-biting flow of the opener, is that Elon (24-7) also had a dominant second quarter,, outscoring the Dukes 25-13.

“We talked about having fun. You can go out and have fun and work hard at the same time,” Smith said. “And when the shots are falling, they’re happy.”

Elon’s weapon of choice was the three-pointer, connecting on nine compared to three by JMU (21-10), which will likely now land in the Women’s NIT.

Meme Garner, who had 15 points for the Phoenix, was a sizzling 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. Malaya Johnson had 14 points, as did Ra’Shinka White, while Lexi Mercer scored 12, and Shay Burnett had nine points and dealt 10 assists.

Kelly Koshuta had a game-high 19 points for James Madison and Kamiah Smalls, the sophomore out of Neumann-Goretti High here, had 13 points.

“I’m extremely proud of my team, an amazing performance to watch,” Smith said. “We talk about going into this game with the things we can control. The things we can control is our attitude, our energy and out effort.

“We knew rebounding was really going to be important (38-35) and we wanted to do a really good job of boxing out and we just shot the ball extremely well (29-55, 52.7 percent).

“I’m proud we went into the game with a lot of confidence because we didn’t play our best basketball yesterday.”

Smith praised Mercer for her defense of Smalls and her team really being disruptive.

“They certainly were the better team today,” James Madison coach Sean O’Regan said. “I didn’t have them well enough prepared and play that kind of game.

“I give a lot of credit to Elon, they made the right plays. Shay was phenomenal.”


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