Elena Delle Donne, No. 9 Delaware escape in final seconds
PHILADELPHIA -- Elena Delle Donne was struggling through the worst shooting game of her career, missing 15 of her first 18 shots. She was constantly hounded by Drexel players and couldn't get any open looks at the basket.
Yet, with the game on the line and her team trailing by a point, there was no doubt where Delaware's final shot would come from.
Delle Donne's leaner from the wing with 2 seconds left lifted Delaware (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) to a thrilling 40-39 victory over Drexel on Sunday and clinched the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title.
"I guess I had to make one tonight, and I'm glad it was that one," Delle Donne said. "I couldn't throw the ball in the ocean, glad my teammates picked me up. Nothing was going my way. We were able to pull it out and good teams are able to do that. It definitely was our gut check of the season so far."
The Blue Hens (24-1, 15-0), who won their only previous CAA title in 2004-05, have 14 straight victories since their lone loss of the season to then-No. 5 Maryland. No CAA team had come within seven points of the Blue Hens all season.
Delle Donne finished with a season-low 12 points -- well below her 28.8 average. She also had 14 rebounds.
"I really don't care how much I score tonight, we won and that's all that matters," she said. "It was a very ugly win, but we won."
Tyler Hale scored 10 points to lead the Dragons (13-12, 9-6). They rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to take a 39-37 lead on Hollie Mershon's layup with 1:38 left.
Delle Donne had a chance to tie the game with 25 seconds left, but the 90-percent free-throw shooter could only convert one of two from the line as her second attempt rolled out.
Delaware fouled Kamile Nacickaite 9 seconds later, but the 83-percent free-throw shooter missed the front end of the one and one giving the Blue Hens another chance and Delle Donne capitalized.
She caught the ball at the top of the key and dribbled to the right wing. She faked out the three people guarding her and leaned in to hit the 15-footer, pumping her fist as it swished through the net. It sent the strong contingent of Delaware fans, who made the hour drive up to the game, into a frenzy.
"It was poetic justice," Delaware coach Tina Martin said. "All game long she was hounded. It had a lot to do why it was one of her toughest games. I don't care if she goes 0 for 12 or 13, I'm putting the ball in her hands at the end of the game and she's going to make the decision."
Drexel had one last chance, but Mershon's 35-footer at the buzzer fell short.
"I thought defensively we did everything we could do," Drexel coach Denise Dillon said. "Offensively we struggled. I felt it wasn't an incredible margin at halftime, thought we had a chance to come back with it. Sure enough we did, just fell a little short."
Trailing 24-14 early in the second half, Drexel rallied behind Hale. The senior forward had six points during a 12-4 run to get the Dragons to 28-26 with 13:11 left. Neither team hit a basket over the next 6 minutes. Hale's layup kept Drexel within two.
Mershon's three-point play with 4:05 left gave Drexel a 34-32 lead -- its first since early in the game. Delle Donne answered with a 3-pointer to end Delaware's 10-minute drought without a field goal.
Mershon, who missed her first nine shots before her three-point play, connected on a 3-pointer to make it 37-35 with 3:14 left. After Lauren Carra's layup tied it with 1:59 left.
Drexel converted only four of its 23 shots as leading scorers Nacickaite and Mershon missed 13 of their 14 attempts. It was the second straight game that Drexel struggled in the first half. The Dragons trailed Old Dominion 27-13 at the break on Thursday before rallying for a 53-45 win.
That victory was Dillon's 145th at Drexel, giving her the most in school history. Drexel presented her with flowers before the game. Former coach Lil Haas, who won 144 games from 1982-93, was on hand for the celebration.
2022-23 Colonial Athletic Association Standings
|North Carolina A&T||12-6||1||18-12|
|William & Mary||12-6||1||18-13|