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WNIT: Washington leads wild Drexel comeback over Bucknell

03/22/2022, 12:45am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Keishana Washington wasn’t going to let her senior season end with a dud.

The Drexel guard was having easily the worst offensive game of her season, a total donut, going scoreless in the opening 30-plus minutes of the Dragons’ Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) second-round game against Bucknell at the Daskalakis Athletic Center on Monday night. She was missing 3-point shots, layups, mid-range jumpers, some not even finding the rim, the gap between her squad and the Bison growing to 17 early in the fourth quarter.

Keishana Washington (above) had a fourth quarter to remember as Drexel beat Bucknell in a WNIT second-round game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“Being down 17, the only thing you can do is be in attack mode at that point,” she said. “Something that we always say is 'no doubt,' so I have no doubt in what this team’s capable of —  even being down as much as 17, I don’t think anyone on this team doubts what we can do.”

Right at the time when it looked like the Dragons’ season might be slipping away, Washington woke up. The 5-foot-7 guard from Toronto scored all 17 of her points in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter, leading Drexel to an improbable 61-58 win and keeping their season alive.

“Believe or not, even in the locker room I was a little speechless, which was probably a surprise to my team,” Drexel coach Amy Mallon said. “I’m just so proud of this team, you look at the situation we were in, and to score 31 points in one quarter, I think any team I’ve coached at Drexel, this is one of the best games I’ve ever seen in a comeback.”

Bucknell absolutely locked down on Washington, the Dragons’ leading scorer (19.6 ppg) and all-CAA First-Team senior guard, for the first 34 minutes, leading Drexel 47-30 early in the fourth quarter. Washington, who entered play Monday night having scored in double figures in every game this season, didn’t get on the scoreboard until a 3-point play with under six minutes remaining, cutting what had been a 17-point deficit down to 12.

Suddenly the floodgates opened. 

Washington came up with a steal on the next possession, taking one dribble into the lane and pitching back to Maura Hendrixson, whose nothing-but-net triple made it a single-digit deficit for the first time since more than three minutes remained in the third.

Four straight points from Bucknell freshman Cecilia Collins, who set a new career best with 23 points, pushed the lead back up to 53-40 with 4:31 remaining. Washington immediately responded with a driving layup, then another one, the second resulting in another 3-point play, cutting it to 53-45 with 3:53 left. 

“Like I said, at that point all you can do is attack, so that was my mindset, especially in the fourth quarter," she said. "Shoot the ball to make the shot, so that was my mentality, every shot’s going in.”

By that point, it was clear where the momentum lay, and Washington wasn’t done. A pull-up jumper caught Bucknell contact, and yet another 3-point play made it 54-51 with 3:24 left. After Jasmine Valentine’s put-back bucket made it a three-point game yet again following a Bucknell bucket, another Washington layup got it down to one with 2:25 to play.

Valentine, a sophomore forward, put Drexel ahead 57-56 with a put-back bucket off a missed 3-pointer, the hosts’ first lead since early in the third quarter. After Emma Shaffer put Bucknell back in front with a mid-range jumper with 36 ticks to play, Washington finished it off, drawing fouls with 33 seconds and nine seconds left, making all four freebies around a Collins 3-point miss to provide for the final score.

Seventeen points in five minutes, 40 seconds.

“What she was able to do in the fourth quarter and take her team on her shoulders and do what she did,” Mallon said, “[it’s] not a surprise to me, but I’m very excited that she was able to do that in the moment, and I’m very proud of her and her teammates today.”

“I think ‘Furm’ [Hendrixson] hitting the 3 was a big game-changer for us, I think the momentum shifted from there out,” Washington said. “Jas grabbing a big board towards the end of the game, to put us up one, was huge, so I think everyone contributed, did what they had to do to help us win the game.”

Hannah Nihill (above) led Drexel with 18 points, going 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, to surpass 1,400 career points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Hannah Nihill led the way with 18 points as Drexel (28-5) tied the program record for wins, advancing into the 64-team field’s third round, where it will play at Seton Hall on Thursday. Mariah Leonard added 11 points and seven rebounds, while Valentine chipped in seven points and five rebounds in 16 minutes, scoring all of her points in the fourth quarter as well.

“Our team does a great job sharing credit, and actually cheering for each other, and I think everybody cheers for Jasmine Valentine,” Mallon said. “She came in and really got some crucial buckets for us, and rebounds, she did a tremendous job.” 

The WNIT has been a familiar landing spot for Drexel, the Dragons making their 10th appearance in the tournament since 2010, improving to 11-8 with the win.

This is the Dragons’ first time in the third round since winning the WNIT championship in 2013, having lost in the second round in both 2017 and 2018 and in the first round in 2019. 

There’s no doubt the 2021-22 Drexel women’s team has had a season to remember. The Dragons won 24 regular-season games, the most in program history, ripping off a 14-game winning streak — second best in program history — while going 10-1 on the road. 

But it looked like they were headed for an ending they would quickly want to forget.

Drexel’s women didn’t look like themselves for long stretches against Bucknell (24-10), especially during a third quarter where they were outscored 21-4, turning what had been a six-point halftime lead into an 11-point deficit entering the final quarter. The visitors scored the first two buckets of the fourth quarter, pushing the lead to its largest, before a Leonard bucket and trio of Nihill foul shots got them in position for Washington’s awakening.

Tessa Brugler (left) was going up against her former teammates at Bucknell. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The matchup between the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season champs and the Patriot League’s third-place squad was notable for one other reason. The last time Drexel and Bucknell faced off was Dec. 8, 2019. Tessa Brugler wore a Bison uniform then, contributing 10 points and 11 rebounds in a 60-49 Bucknell win. 

Brugler now finishing up her college career in a Drexel uniform, averaging 13.9 ppg and 8.8 rpg and earning second team All-CAA honors. She  was playing the one game she wanted to avoid, against her old program, but finished with five points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes, with two blocks, including one on a game-tying attempt in the closing seconds.

“We let her do the scouting, we’re like ‘you’re in charge now,’” Mallon joked. “We talked about that before the game, it’s all about Drexel right now, it’s about our program and being part of that.

“I’m really proud of her, this was a tough scenario to be in. It’s the one thing she talked to [head] coach [Trevor] Woodruff before she transferred, made sure we weren’t on the schedule. We ended up obviously meeting at this point, but just very proud of what she was able to do and lead this team throughout the season and today.”

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