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Drexel run win streak to 10 against talented Towson

01/19/2022, 12:15am EST
By Sam Istvan

Sam Istvan (@sistvan_14)

The Drexel women seemed in control all night, leading since the first quarter. Then, a whirlwind 7-0 Towson run, capped by sophomore Allie Kubek’s 3-pointer in the corner, tied the game with a minute left. The Drexel faithful were left shell-shocked as their team called a timeout, suddenly needing a bucket to retake the lead and win at the death.

“The one person I will trust with the ball at the end of the game is [fifth-year point guard] Hannah Nihill,” said Drexel head coach Amy Mallon. “So, we definitely ran a play for her to have the ball in her hands. They disrupted, they switched on the screen. And it wasn't quite there.”

Tessa Brugler (above) had the go-ahead layup for Drexel to help them beat Towson on Tuesday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Luckily for Mallon, her team, the defending CAA champions, are brimming with veteran players that have been there, done that. They showed poise as Nihill swung the ball to graduate student, forward Mariah Leonard, who found yet another graduate student and forward, Tessa Brugler on the block. Brugler pivoted, pump-faked, pivoted again and hit a leaning lay-up to give the Dragons the lead for good, as they eked out a 58-54 win, moving to 5-0 in CAA play and handing Towson their first conference loss of the year.

“I think it's just one of the things with having experienced players like Tessa and [senior guard Keishana Washington] out there,” Mallon said. “You know that everyone else is another option too. So iso’ing Tess on the block and her taking her time and scoring, I think that just goes to show her patience as a veteran player.”

“I think that our team right now is a very experienced team,” Leonard said. “And we’ve really learned how to maintain composure under tight situations such as this one.”

It was the 10th win in a row for Drexel, which came into the evening with the third-longest win streak amongst all D-I women’s programs; the Dragons haven’t lost since Nov. 26. They face the only other unbeaten CAA team, Delaware, on Sunday, also at the DAC (2 PM).

Leonard contributed more than her share to the Dragons’ effort on Tuesday night, scoring 13 points (4-5 FGs, 5-6 FTs) and grabbing 12 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, for her second double-double of the season. The 5-foot-10 Leonard anchored Drexel’s 2-3 zone and went toe-to-toe in the paint with one of Towson’s leading scorers, 6-foot-1 Allie Kubeck, as well as 6-foot-1 junior Rayne Tucker. Leonard held Kubeck (16.4 PPG) to just 3 field goals and grabbed more rebounds (12) than Towson’s two six-footers combined (9).

“I've had a chance to coach Mariah throughout her career,” said Mallon of her veteran forward. “And one thing she just does a great job of is really telling everyone else what to do, especially in our matchup in the backline. And she's just such a big key to our success with that 2-3 because she really is telling everyone what to do and where to go. That makes me more proud than anything as a coach, seeing her take that leadership on the floor.”

“I've really grown up working on rebounding,” Leonard said. “My cousins, I always had to rebound for them, so I've learned timing of shots and how to position my body. But it really comes down to, I really want to give my team the best chance to have second opportunities, and I'll do whatever it takes to make sure they get the ball back.” 

Mariah Leonard (above) had 13 points and 12 rebounds against Towson. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Leonard grabbed all five of her offensive rebounds in the second half, at a time when Drexel most needed the extra opportunities as they managed just 27.3% from the field (9-33) in the second half. 

Leonard’s rebounding and defensive effort combined with Drexel’s guards handling Towson’s pressure, totaling just three turnovers against the Tigers’ ferocious pressure, helped the Dragons to withstand their poor shooting and hold on for the win.

“I think they really did pick it up,” said Mallon, discussing Towson’s second-half defensive pressure. “So I don't think it was something we weren't prepared for. But I think we also did a great job, you know, Keishana and Hannah handling the ball the way they do, and actually Maura Hendrixson being able to do that for us and trade off who’s handling, I think that really helped too, just settling people in so we were making accurate passes and being disciplined with it.”

Nihill, a Cardinal O’Hara product, chipped in 10 points and three assists for the Dragons, captaining the offense and leading them through the jungle once the Tigers upped their pressure in the second half. 

“You have someone like Hannah Nihill as your leader on the floor,” Mallon said. “I have a feeling that she's not gonna let anybody keep her down. So I think everyone’s going to follow.”

Hendrixson, for her part,  helped shoulder the ball-handling load with Nihill and Drexel’s leading scorer, Washington. Hendrixson totaled a team-high six assists and played a big part in disrupting Towson’s offense on the other end with four steals. The senior has bounced back from a season-ending ACL tear last year.

“She comes in off the bench, she's a spark for us, which is what you want from your sixth person coming in,” Mallon said. “She was able to get her hands on passes. I mean, you see her experience really shine through in these moments because even though we’ve talked about her coming off this major injury and being out, I don’t think she’s skipped a beat, and she's actually even more impressive on the defensive end.”

Mallon knows that her squad has a target on their back, coming off their CAA championship last year. Yet, if any team is equipped to handle the pressure that comes with that, it is Drexel and their cadre of battle-tested seniors, fifth-years, and graduate students.

“Every time you play a team, you're getting their best shot because of that [target],” said Mallon. “You know, we deserved it. We earned it last year. Knowing that, you have to come even more focused every day. You can't take anything for granted. And I think it definitely has been one of those things where our seniors, because we have so many, are very aware of that.”

“I think it allows us to keep that composure, and that really helps us to be able to stay calm,” said Leonard, speaking about her teammates’ experience and maturity. “In situations where other people would get hectic, we’re able to stay calm.”

Towson tested Drexel’s mettle in a major way on Tuesday in a game that resembled a March tournament battle. The Dragons passed the test and emerged victorious. Yet the war rages on for Mallon’s team. They will see Towson again in March, once maybe twice, as they look to replicate last March’s successes, even with the target squarely on their back this time.

“I think that's what makes what we do exciting,” said Mallon. “In our conference too, to see teams like this and knowing that it's someone you're gonna see in the future, and it's gonna be a fight. Both teams are gonna show up ready to go and battle.”

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