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Drexel women snap skid, stay in first place in CAA as postseason nears

02/19/2023, 8:30pm EST
By Konner Metz

Konner Metz (@konner_metz)

Keishana Washington delivered another masterclass Sunday afternoon.

Whether she was stopping and popping for mid-range jumpers, driving to the cup, or hoisting up three-pointers, stopping her was a task that might as well have been impossible.

With her Drexel Dragons up by double digits on Delaware in the final two minutes, Washington nailed her 15th free throw of the afternoon, tallying her final and 40th point – a mark she’s hit three times this season already (including her career-high 42 in December).

Keishana Washington (above) scored 40+ points for the third time this season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“I saw [my point total] when I was shooting my free throws, but I was more concerned with getting the win and getting out of here,” Washington said. “So I wasn’t really too concerned with [40].”

The star guard’s laser focus on the win was for good reason, as Drexel’s 67-55 triumph over rival Delaware snapped a rare two-game losing streak for the Dragons, and put them back atop the CAA standings with the regular season winding down.

Drexel (19-7, 11-4 CAA) dropped back-to-back games against Monmouth and Northeastern last week, which tightened up the race for the No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament. But Sunday’s win against Delaware (14-11, 7-7) got coach Amy Mallon’s squad back on track, and more importantly, in control of their fate in terms of seeding.

They’re a half-game ahead of North Carolina A&T and Stony Brook – each sitting at 10-4 – with a road trip to Hofstra and home contests versus William & Mary and A&T on the horizon. Mallon hasn’t preached the urgency to maintain first place too much, but she knows her players are aware of the situation at hand.

“For us, I always say you’re in control of your own destiny,” Mallon said. “You don’t want to focus on finishing first, but you want to focus on each game right now, it does matter. And each practice, each second on the floor, every possession now becomes crucial for us to make sure we’re doing what we need to be doing. If we do that, I think it takes care of itself.”

“I think it’s a big momentum shift for us,” Washington said of Sunday’s victory. “After losing our last two, coming in, we really focused on getting stops and playing good defense because we knew they were going to be physical. It’s all cheers in the locker room right now.”

That game-by-game approach seemed to work wonderfully for the Dragons, who were carried offensively by Washington’s dazzling performance. She showed why she’s the second leading scorer in the nation, shooting 11-for-26 from the field, 3-of-7 from deep, and 15-of-17 at the FT stripe.

Two Blue Hens fouled out on a day where whistles burdened Delaware (28 total team fouls). Despite a distracting band and student section at the Bob Carpenter Center, Washington was money at the line.

Along with averaging 27.7 points per contest, she’s 85% from the charity stripe on the season, and often, if defenders can’t keep up with her quick first step, they’re forced to foul her instead. That, too, usually ends up in Drexel points.

“Teams have to find a way to guard her, and in some ways, it could be fouling her,” Mallon said.

“When you go to the line, it’s all you,” Washington said. “Everything else that’s going on has to be blocked out. My dad taught me from a really early age, block out everything else that’s going on around you. Even when I’m playing, I don’t hear people calling my name, I don’t hear any of that.”

Alongside Washington, the Drexel team is young with a lot of new pieces playing big roles after coming up short to Delaware in last year’s CAA title game. But one familiar face from last year’s team has stuck around despite running out of eligibility.

Former Drexel forward Tessa Brugler was a one-year transfer for Mallon last year, averaging 13.9 ppg and 8.9 rpg as a force inside the paint standing at 6-1. Now, she’s the director of basketball operations, and helping Drexel’s new-look frontcourt that runs more by committee.

The typical starters inside are a pair of 6-2 players, freshman Kylie Lavelle (11 ppg) and senior Hetta Saatman (6.1 ppg). Juniors Chloe Hodges (5.4 ppg) and Jasmine Valentine (4 ppg) provide minutes off the bench, but they’ve all learned from the experienced Brugler.

“If they can battle with her and find a way to limit what she’s doing, you can be able to guard any big in our league,” Mallon said of the forwards facing off with Brugler in practices.

“We’ve often been undersized. Our bigs tend to be more mobile type players on the offensive end. But being able to battle inside with other bigs is big, and I really thought our rotation today, we did a good job.”

Maura Hendrixson (above) is Drexel's new single-season assists leader with 191 dimes. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Lavelle and Hodges combined for 17 points on Sunday, while fifth-year guard Maura Hendrixson stuffed the stat sheet – seven assists, seven rebounds, and a steal while playing all 40 minutes. In fact, it was a record day as Hendrixson’s second dime of the day broke the Drexel single-season mark.

It came in the third quarter, appropriately, on a pass to Washington that put the Dragons up seven. Hendrixson answered that historic dime with not one, not two, but three more assists on the next three Drexel buckets in the game. Her coach said she doesn’t think Hendrixson knew at the time or even right after the game of the single-season record (now Hendrixson’s at 191).

“I don’t think she knows, I’ll go tell her,” Mallon said. “She definitely doesn’t know, knowing her.”

Hendrixson’s unselfishness is no surprise – she’s third in the nation with 7.6 apg. Often, it turns into points for her friend and roommate, Washington. She’s nicknamed the ‘Furminator,’ as Mallon and Washington noted. And heading into the home stretch of the season, there’s sure to be more of the Hendrixson-to-Washington connection that will give defenses headaches.

“This many games in, we’ve seen almost every type of defense,” Mallon said. “A box and one, whether it was a zone, or whether it was a triple team. I think we’re aware it’s coming. All five Dragons have got to be ready. Because if that’s what they’re going to do, someone else is going to get a look.”

On Sunday, Delaware tried zone concepts at times, and put extra attention on Washington anytime she got to the baseline, bringing two or sometimes three defenders to guard the Drexel star. Everyone in the building knew Washington would be taking shots, and yet, nothing could really be done about it. 

If Drexel can ride Sunday’s wave into their final three games, they’ll be in position to clinch the No. 1 seed in the CAA. No matter who the Dragons face, they know teams will be giving them their best shot, especially come the tournament. But with a talent as special and rare as Washington in her final season, Drexel is as tough a test as they’ve ever been.

“For me and Furm especially, it’s exciting because it’s our last ride so we really want to get the win,” Washington said. “I think our teammates are really just trying to play as hard as they can for us and our other seniors. We’re all just excited, ready to go out there and win.”

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