It was a record-setting night for the Drexel women's basketball team, as they won their first-ever postseason game, advancing to the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament with a 57-41 victory at Fairfield on Thursday night. The win was their program-best tenth on the road this season in 15 true road contests. Kamile Nacickaite, who reached double figures for the 30th time this season with 12 points, played in her 126th career game, breaking a tie with former teammate Gabriela Marginean for the school record.
The Dragons used a 22-2 run extending across halftime to turn a five-point deficit into a 15-point advantage. Tyler Hale was a spark for Drexel throughout the early going and that run, working her way inside for lay-ups when Fairfield had the rest of the Dragons bottled up. She finished with 18 points, tying her career high. Hale was also 4-for-4 from the free throw line, and has now hit her last 14 from the charity stripe and 20 of her last 22.
Hale added five assists, tying her season best. She also had two steals and five rebounds. Nacickaite finished with eight boards as the Dragons controlled the glass, outrebounding the Stags 37-27.
Not surprisingly for two teams ranked in the top 30 in the country in scoring defense, the first half was a low-scoring battle, with both teams struggling to solve the defense of the other. Tyler Hale got the first four points of the game for the Dragons, cutting to the hoop for a lay-up and hitting two free throws, but after Fairfield's Taryn Johnson converted from in close to make it 4-2 with 17:38 remaining, neither team could score for the next 3:38 before Johnson found an opening underneath to tie the score.
While stifling the Drexel offense, Fairfield began to work its way inside against the Dragon defense, going on a run to take a 16-10 lead with just over eight minutes to play in the half. From there, the Dragons righted themselves. After free throws by Taylor Wootton and Hale pulled Drexel back within a bucket, Kamile Nacickate got her first points of the evening with 4:42 to play, knotting things back up at 16.
Fairfield scored the next five points, but the Dragons closed the half on a 7-0 run. Kamile Nacickaite began to get some space inside, weaving her way in and hitting a reverse lay-up. She then powered another short bucket home, adding a free throw after she was fouled on the play. In the half's final ticks, Hollie Mershon buried a short jumper to give the Dragons a 23-21 lead, their first since that 4-2 edge.
Coming out of the break, the Dragons established control with a 15-2 run that put them in the lead, 38-23. It was then the Stags' turn to make a run, scoring 11 of the next 13 points to get back within six. Drexel did not let it get closer than that, however, and went into a pressing, attacking defense that shut down the Fairfield offense over the game's final 9:49.
Drexel was 11-for-11 from the free throw line, the second time in three games that they took more than 10 free throws without a miss. Ayana Lee and Fiona Flanagan provided a spark off the bench. Lee finished with four points and three rebounds, and was credited by head coach Denise Dillon with helping alleviate the defensive pressure on the Dragons' outside shooters. Flanagan hit the first three-pointer of the game for Drexel with 13:17 remaining in the game, finishing with five points.
The Dragons will find out who they play next tomorrow evening, when Syracuse visits Hartford. The winner will face Drexel later this week in the WNIT's second round at a location, date and time still to be determined. Should Syracuse defeat the Hawks, Drexel would host the Orange in a second-round game on Monday at a time TBA. If Hartford wins, the Dragons would most likely be traveling back to Connecticut for that game at a date and time TBA.