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Drexel WBB grinds out win over Delaware, but still looking for reliable scoring

02/02/2024, 11:08pm EST
By Finn Courtney

Finn Courtney (@finncourtney_)

The rollercoaster continued for Drexel women’s basketball, which slugged out a four-quarter battle with Delaware in a game that continued to show the Dragons’ vulnerability without a go-to scorer.

The Dragons escaped with a 53-49 victory Friday night at home, with Amaris Baker leading the way with 13 points and Chloe Hodges adding 10. Both had four assists. The offense shot just 35.9% from the field (23-of-64) and was 1 of 11 from 3-point range.

But the defense stepped up, closing the game by holding Delaware without a made field goal over the final six-and-a-half minutes.

“I think that this is a great response from our team, we definitely hit our defensive goal today which is always a priority, so I like seeing that in the box score,” Drexel head coach Amy Mallon said. 

After the graduation of Keishana Washington (27.7 points per game, third in the nation last season), Maura Hendrixon (7.8 assists per game, third in the nation), and the transfer of second-leading scorer Kylie Lavelle (11.1 ppg last season) to Penn State, the Dragons (10-9, 5-3) have struggled all year to find a consistent scorer, with Villanova transfer forward Brooke Mullin leading the way with a mere 11.8 ppg.

Drexel's Amaris Baker had a team-high 13 points and dished out four assists in Friday's win over Delaware. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL file)

The lack of that dependable scoring has cost Drexel (10-9, 5-3 CAA) again and again, its season average plummeting from 67.0 ppg a season ago to 56.8 — a product of the playing style shifting from Washington-led to a more sharing-the-wealth approach.

“Obviously, Washington was a special player that did things on the floor, you could count on her to make those plays in big moments, I think this team is about making big moments together,” Mallon said. “Ultimately, it comes down to it could be anybody on the floor at any time [and] each game, you see bits and pieces of it, so I’m hoping that they continue to find that connection on the floor, knowing who’s gonna get that next look.”

It’s been a year of who’s stepping up to the plate — since 2023 turned to 2024, the answer’s been in Harcum transfer Baker, who’s averaged 12.4 points and 4.8 rebounds since the new year. The junior guard (9.9 ppg on the season) has been game to take over in important moments on the offensive end and in a leadership role.

“Just setting up our screens, setting up every play, so that if I wasn’t getting open, my teammates were getting open, so that [helps] our offense a whole bunch,” Baker said. “We were just staying together as a team, we knew what we could do, all we needed to do was take a breath and just get together, come back out and fight and we did that.”

In a far-from-pretty offensive performance, it was the defensive toughness that won out as Drexel kept Delaware (7-13, 3-5) without a field goal across the final 6:29.

After losing the rebounding battle in both recent losses to Monmouth and Stony Brook, Mallon was proud of her team for learning from past mistakes and winning on the glass 45-37 Friday night.

“I’m really happy with the rebounding piece because I felt like that normally gets us at times, [but] we definitely battled in there, put ourselves in position not to give them too many second-chance opportunities,” she said.

Central to the victory was a breakout day on the boards for sophomore guard Grace O’Neill, who despite her 5-foot-7 stature, set a new career high and led all players with 13 rebounds.

“She’s halfway through her sophomore year, she was one of our leading rebounders last year, so it’s not really a surprise to me,” Mallon said. “It’s what she does on the floor, her ability to do that and do that as a guard her size, she’s the definition of grit, she goes after everything, she’s hustling for the whole time she’s on the floor.” 

O’Neill, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection a season ago, has struggled to match the scoring production of her freshman year — 7.0 ppg last season to 5.1 ppg this season. Her rebounding numbers, however, have stayed consistent, and her assists have jumped from 1.8 per game to 3.1, with her “heart on her sleeve” mentality never changing.

“I see it every day at practice, she wins our rebounding award every day, she’s our charge leader on the team [and] loose-ball dives, she leads us in all those categories,” Mallon said. “To see her leading us in rebounding as well, I’m always challenging everybody else on the floor to make someone else be it, but I think she really just sets the tone for everybody.”

Despite missing last year’s firepower offensively and the unimpressive record overall, Drexel hopes Mullin, O’Neill, Australian senior forward Hodges are enough to make a deep run come CAA Tournament time.

Hodges, who played sparingly her freshman season and missed her sophomore campaign with injury, is making up for lost time. She’s posting the best statistical numbers of her career, averaging 8.9 points, 3.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds and has improved at the foul line, shooting 86% this season. She made two big ones in the final seconds against Delaware and finished the night with 10 points (4-of-10 shooting), four assists and three rebounds.

“They trust me to shoot those shots, they put the ball in my hands for a reason [and I’ve] been working really hard on my free throws, especially after last year,” Hodges said. “I shoot them every day and especially after missing those first two, I knew those were going down.”

Drexel, currently fifth in the CAA, stands two games out of the lead.

“[Today was] really important, we’re getting ready to hit the road again, so when you’re at home and especially in CAA play, you really hope you can grab those games against your opponent,” Mallon said. “So I’m really happy with this as we hit the road.”

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