Delle Donne's Jumper in Final Seconds Gives No. 10 Blue Hens Thrilling 40-39 Victory Over Rival Drexel; Delaware Clinches CAA Regular Season Title
PHILADELPHIA – Blue Hen junior All-American Elena Delle Donne (at right) struggled offensively for most of the afternoon, but she converted when it counted most by hitting a leaner with two seconds remaining to give the No. 10/9 ranked University of Delaware women's basketball team a 40-39 victory over Colonial Athletic Association rival Drexel Sunday afternoon at the Daskalakis Center.
Delle Donne and Danielle Parker (bottom left) each finished with 12 points for the Blue Hens, who won their 14th straight game while improving to 24-1 overall and 15-0 in league play.
The victory clinched the CAA regular season title for the Blue Hens - the team's first league title since 2004-05 - and gives the Hens the top seed in the CAA Tournament that will be held on Mar. 8-11 at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.
The nation’s leading scorer at 28.8 points per game, Delle Donne became Delaware’s all-time leading scorer for both men and women as she surpassed 2,030 career points, breaking the mark held by forward Mike Pegues, a current UD men's basketball assistant coach who played for the Blue Hen from 1996-2000.
Delle Donne, a 6-5 junior, had surpassed the 2,000-career point mark during Thursday’s victory at Hofstra.
Leading the way for Drexel (13-12, 9-6) was Tyler Hale, who scored 10 points and was the lone Dragon in double figures. Her efforts were followed by Hollie Mershon with eight points and Ayana Lee with seven points. Kamile Nacickatite pulled down a team-high nine boards for the Dragons, who were outrebounded by Delaware by a 43-36 margin.
Unable to gain offensive momentum, the Hens shot a season-low 24.6 percent from the field, connecting on just 14 of 57 shots, including just 8 of 27 shots in the first half.
Drexel started off even slower, draining just 4 of 23 first half shots for 17.4 percent from the floor en route to 11 first half points. The Dragons picked it up in the second half, putting in 11 of 24 shots to total 31.9 percent on the day.
The Hens squeezed out a 20-11 halftime lead, marking a season-low first-half points on the Hens’ side. The low-scoring first half came without surprise after the Blue Hens took a 24-20 halftime lead in Newark earlier this season.
The 20 first-half points by Delaware were the least scored since the last meeting between the Hens and Dragons at the Daskalakis Center on Jan. 11, 2011, when the Hens held a 20-18 first half lead.
“We knew coming in it was going to be this kind of day," said Delaware head coach Tina Martin, the CAA's active career coaching win leader with 147 league wins among her 302 total victories. "It's always like this when we come here and it's a tough place to play. It wasn't an offensive explosion, and we knew we needed to get the ball in Elena's hands at the end. I don't care how tough of a game it was for her or the team, she's a winner through and through, and we're fortunate to come out on top."
The 40 points was the Hens' lowest total in a victory in school history. The previous low was a 42-37 Delaware victory over Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 7, 2008.
Delaware's Trumae Lucas started off the game with a basket for the Hens before Delaware fell into a slump and missed the next 13 shot attempts. After Drexel took a 4-2 lead at the 15:50 mark, neither team made a basket until Parker ended the scoring drought for Delaware with a 15-foot jumper at the shot clock buzzer with 9:41 on the clock.
Delaware regained its lead for the remainder of the first half after a three-point shot by Carra with 8:36 to play, followed by Delle Donne’s first basket of the game to give Hens a 9-4 edge.
But the Dragons answered with a three-pointer by Fiona Flanagan to reduce the Hens lead to two. Carra hit her second three-ball of the night with just over five minutes to play in the first to extend the Hens’ lead to 12-7.
Delaware used a 7-2 run to help boost the Hens into a solid nine point lead to take over 20-11 at halftime. Drexel got things rolling in the second half with a three-pointer by Flanagan, but Parker answered with a jumper and two points from the foul line to keep the Hens rolling.
With just over 13 minutes to play, the Dragons tightened the score at 28-26. However the score remained unchanged for the next four and a half minutes until two free throws by Delle Donne put the Hens up 30-26 at the 8:29 mark.
The second half remained tightly contested as the Dragons took the lead with an old-fashioned three-point play by Mershon at 4:05 to put Drexel up 34-32. Delle Donne connected on a three-pointer to regain the Blue Hen lead but that basket was quickly answered by a Drexel three-point shot from Mershon.
A Carra layup tied it back up at 37-37 with just under two minutes left in the game before Mershon fired another jumper in a timely shooting effort to keep the Dragons ahead 39-37 with 1:38 to go.
A Nacickaite foul sent Delle Donne to the line with 25 seconds on the clock, giving the Hens the chance to tie it up. The 90 percent foul shooter made the first shot but misfired on the second as the Hens remained down by one point at 39-38.
But the Dragons could not capitalize. The Hens were forced to foul and put 85 percent shooter Nacickaite on the line with 19 seconds left to play. Nacicikaite missed the front end of the one-and-one opportunity and Delaware's Jocelyn Bailey pulled down the rebound. The Hens then called a timeout with 17 seconds left to set up Delle Donne's heroics.
Delle Donne brought the partisan Delaware crowd to its feet as she split a couple of Drexel defenders, rolled to her right, and put a shot up from the right side of the lane as the clock ticked down the final seconds. The crowd exploded as she buried the jumper with two seconds left to clinch the win.
A desperation shot by Drexel's Mershon just before the buzzer was way off the mark.
“I don’t care how much we scored tonight, we won and that’s all that matters,” said Delle Donne, who hit just 4 of 19 shots from the field but upped her career total to 2,033 points. “Nothing was really going my way or our way on offense today, but we pulled through and got the win. Anybody can win any day."
The Blue Hens return home for a 7 p.m. showdown with George Mason (13-13, 7-8) on Thursday, Feb. 23. Delaware posted a 66-54 win over the Patriots earlier this season.
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