By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
UNIVERSITY CITY — Laine McGurk’s college career began last week with a “DNP” (Did Not Play) during a home loss to Norfolk State.
Seven days later she sat at the podium in the media room at the Daskalakis Athletic Center fielding questions about a Drexel 71-46 win over La Salle on Wednesday.
The Dragons’ 5-10 freshman wing from West Chester Rustin dazzled with a team-high 20 points off the bench in her second career game. The outburst followed a team-high 12 points during her first action of the season in a win last Friday against Delaware State.
“I just know that anytime coach trusts me enough to put me in the game, I just need to take advantage,” McGurk said. “I’m not afraid to score and make mistakes, especially as a freshman. No matter when I’m put in, I’m just going to take advantage and dow what I’m supposed to.”
Drexel freshman Laine McGurk scored 20 points against La Salle on Wednesday. (Photo: Courtesy Drexel Athletics)
McGurk’s heater started with a fastbreak layup with 4:35 left in the second quarter. It began a personal seven-point spurt that pushed the Dragons’ lead to 16 points late in the first half. They led 33-21 at the break.
She was ready to shoot whenever the ball came to her, the release prefect on her first midrange jumper of the night and continuing on as she finished 9-for-12 from the floor and 2-for-4 from deep.
“The confidence my teammates have in me, no shot looks hard for me, so I’m just gonna shoot,” McGurk said. “I know they all have my back.”
You could really see the confidence brewing in the fourth quarter when she scored all 11 of her team's points during an 11-2 run that expanded the Dragons’ lead to 67-39. She used a hesitation move to score on the drive then buried a turnaround jumper at the foul line during the stretch.
Teammates on the bench enjoyed the show, imploring the Dragons on the floor to get her the ball open in the corner for a three that would have won those in the arena free burgers from Shake Shack. It was one of the only shots that didn’t go in on the night, putting an end to a brilliant show. (Chloe Hodges’ free throws later on made sure the Dragons’ fans went home entitled to their burger, though.)
“Her teammates want her out there,” Drexel head coach Amy Mallon said. “They want to see her out there. She’s going to keep working, and I think you’re going to see a lot more of her on the floor. I know everyone’s probably saying you should put her in that first game. You saw the score of the game and saw what we were able to do. But as she said, it’s like earning that trust. I think she is continuing to do that, so I’m excited to see her continue to grow.”
McGurk totaled 1,249 points in her final two high school seasons, averaging 23.3 ppg for West Chester Rustin as a senior to lead her team to a district title and state semifinal run. Twenty-point games were routine, and the school’s all-time scoring leader made 30-pieces look ordinary as well.
Junior Amaris Baker, who finished with 19 points, has watched that scoring acumen translate daily to the college level at practice as one of the starters who has to defend her on the second team. McGurk has 32 points in first 32 collegiate minutes.
“Everything she shoots up is money,” Baker said.
Along with her buttery stroke, McGurk brought plenty of athleticism with her to University City, which was one display as she skied for six rebounds Wednesday. She’s one half of a set of Division I twins as her sister Elizabeth plays lacrosse at St. Joe’s.
Even with the tool bag McGurk possessed, there was (and still is) plenty of learning to do, particularly on the defensive end where the Dragons hang their hat. If you can’t defend, you don’t play is a very clear message delivered when players arrive at Drexel.
Mallon knew McGurk could put the ball through the hoop. She said Wednesday’s game won’t be the last time that happens for Drexel this season. The defense is a work in progress, but it’s progressing … with a little help from one of the Dragons’ assistants.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense and she’s in here everyday working on it,” Mallon said. “And she’s working with someone who’s pretty good at it, someone named Hannah Nihill, who was the defensive player of the year in our league. She’s committed. She’s getting better at understanding the concepts.”
McGurk made things look easy Wednesday that are not, particularly for someone in their second college game, but not everything is or will be during her freshman campaign.
The advice and instructions peppered at her early in her career have been listened to carefully. She’s excited to work her way out of whatever challenges she might face.
“I think for me it’s just going to be the little things, getting on the ground, getting rebounds, playing defense, something that I struggle with, but I’m gonna work hard everyday to get my minutes on the floor,” McGurk said. “It doesn’t come through scoring at all. These coaches have made it very important that nothing’s given to you. You have to earn everything here. It’s been really fun coming in, not having anything handed to me, especially knowing everyday I come to practice I work hard for it.”