By Mel Greenberg
NEWARK, Del. – Drexel wouldn’t give up Sunday against No. 18 Delaware in another Colonial Athletic Association heavyweight tilt between the two local rivals but for the second time in a year since the Blue Hens became a national power the Dragons were foiled at the finish losing 62-57 as Delaware swept the season series.
All-American Elena Delle Donne was held in check a large portion of the first half but on a bad day the talented senior likely to go in the top three or two of April’s WNBA draft eventually found the way to her points and the 6-5 forward scored 28 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Tulsa Shock, which has the third pick in the WNBA selections, dropped by for a personal look-see in case Phoenix, likely to take Baylor’s Brittney Griner as the overall No. 1 pick, and Chicago, which could take Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, were to leave Delle Donne standing when Tulsa picks at No. 3.
Delle Donne led the nation in scoring a year ago and she is decimal points from jumping in front of Florida International’s Jerica Coley to lead again but she
was not the only story as the Blue Hens (25-3, 16-0 CAA) won their 21st straight game to match a school record and ran their three-year conference winning streak to 36 straight – exceeded only by top-ranked Baylor in the Big 12.
Senior classmate Lauren Carra had a season-high 21 points and doused the fire of the Dragons (20-7 13-3), who had a four-game win streak snapped in front of another sellout crowd at the Bob Carpenter Center, this one 5,094, exceeded only by the sellout of last Sunday when James Madison fell here by a single point.
Coach Denise Dillon’s bunch nearly ruined the streak a year ago back in Philadelphia at the Dragon’s Daskalakis Athletic Center but Delle Donne hit an outside shot before regulation time expired to keep the streak alive.
“You don’t like to lose,” Dillon said. And when you’re close you have to find a way to win a game like that. I said, It wasn’t the last three minutes where we lost it. It was those four minutes in the middle of the second half when we had a lull.”
This time the Blue Hens were blowing the game open with a 12-point lead at 52-40 with 5 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game before the Dragons mounted a 14-2 rally to tie the score at 54-54 with three minutes left.
Senior Hollie Mershon, who might be the star player of the CAA if Delle Donne were somewhere else, had 26 points, though an early struggle from field left her with an 11-for-30 effort.
Rachel Pearson, a freshman whose older sister Meghan will be honored Monday night as one of several Villanova departing seniors, had nine points off the bench and connected on three three-pointers out of four attempts.
Mershon’s total was the most given up by Delaware this season. Prior to then, Taleia Moton of George Mason scored 30 on January 12 of last season against the Blue Hens.
“I think it’s the same story, we’re either tied or just down a couple of points and we struggle to finish,” Mershon said of the pattern in recent matchups with Delaware.
“The last couple of possession we let (Carra) open for a three and make a couple of foul shots.”
After the score got deadlocked on a trey by Mershon, Carra nailed a shot from behind the arc only to have Pearson shoot one for another tie at 57-57 with 1:20 left.
Carra hit two foul shots with 53 seconds left, then stole the ball but was called for traveling going in for a layup.
Mershon went in for the tie and missed and problematical whether or not the referees could have called a foul.
“They were calling for a high screen and it was causing us problems and we finally got a stop on that last play,” Delle Donne said. “We couldn’t double because their shooters are so good. When you’re playing a Denise Dillon team running offenses, there’s no comfort level until the clock runs out.”
Delle Donne was then fouled and went to the line with 17 seconds left and hit two free throws for a comfort level.
Drexel then missed several shots on the next possession and then Carra hit 1-for-2 on the next possession for the final score.
“It’s been a lot these past four years,” Drexel coach Tina Martin said of her seniors. “It’s been a pleasure to coach these kids although they’ve given me many, many heart attacks. If they every look at my scar tissue on my heart and they’re going to know.
“I told them, `Wednesday night (here against Georgia State) to wrap up, it’s the biggest game in town. Let’s slam the door on this thing,’ and I think they’re ready to do that.”
Drexel has a key game with James Madison at home Wednesday to close the regular season. A win gives the Dragons the No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament and a loss drops them to third, though either way if the seeds play out the Dragons and Duchesses would meet in the semifinals later this month at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marylboro, Md., near the nation’s capital.