Seniors Taylor Wootton (left) and Hollie Mershon hoist the WNIT Championship trophy following their win over Utah.
Drexel women’s basketball claimed a share of school and city history on Saturday by defeating Utah 46-43 to seize the Women’s National Invitation Championship, which is the first postseason title for Drexel and the first for any NCAA Division I women’s basketball team in Philadelphia. The Dragons finished the year with a 28-10 record, which is the program’s record for wins in a season.
Senior Taylor Wootton scored her 1,000th career point and led her team with 16 in the game. Hollie Mershon hit a go-ahead layup with 21 seconds remaining and knocked down two free throws in the final moments of the game to give her team its final margin of victory. The senior scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half while eclipsing the 1,600-point mark for her career en route to Tournament MVP honors. Their classmate Renee Johnson-Allen, who finished the game with six points and three rebounds, came up with two key defensive plays in the waning minutes of the game to help the Dragons come from behind for the victory.
The Dragons trailed for nearly the entire first half as the Utes seemed to have an answer every time Drexel got close. After seeing a five-point lead in the second half evaporate, the Dragons fought back with Mershon's late heroics to bring home the championship and bring the Daskalakis Athletic Center crowd of 1,922 storming onto the court to celebrate with their team.
Wootton, who scored the first seven points for Drexel and played the entire 40 minutes, was named to the WNIT All-Tournament Team alongside Mershon.
Trailing 24-21 at the half, the Dragons came out of intermission and continued to struggle shooting from the floor. Utah held a five-point lead before Wootton knocked down a jumper that gave her point number 1,000 with 17:19 to play.
The Utes responded, however, and scored five of the game's next six points to build a 31-24 lead. That is when the Drexel defense, which set a program record by allowing just over 51 points per game this season, clamped down. Over the next 8:30, Utah would score just two points as Drexel clawed its way to a 38-33 lead.
Johnson-Allen took a feed from Mershon with 10:38 remaining that tied the score at 33. Thirty seconds later, Mershon found an open Fiona Flanagan at the top of the key. Flanagan drained the three-pointer to hand Drexel its first lead of the day at 36-33. After another defensive stop, Mershon drove to the bucket and scored to put the Dragons up by five.
Utah scored at the 7:50 mark to bring the game back to a two-point margin at 38-36. Moments later, Utah’s Michelle Plouffe went to the line for two shots, but hit just one, and Flanagan hit a long two-pointer with her foot on the line to push Drexel back up by three.
Both teams were scoreless for the next two-and-a-half minutes until Johnson-Allen stole a Plouffe pass and drove to the hoop to score. Up by five, the Dragons quickly saw that lead disappear as Cheyenne Wilson and Rodrigues hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the Utes back on top by one with 3:07 to play.
Drexel had chances in the ensuing minutes, but Utah contested the Dragons well as they drove to the basket, forcing hurried, difficult shots that did not fall. After Mershon and Wootton both missed short shots and saw Plouffe pull down a defensive board with 34 seconds to play, it appeared that Drexel would need some help.
They created the help themselves when Wootton deflected the Utes' pass over to Johnson-Allen. After a timeout, Mershon took the ball down the left side, jump stopped, and knocked down a layup between two flailing defender. The basket drew a roar from the crowd and pushed Drexel back in the lead. Utah still had 21 seconds to work with though, but an errant pass from Iwalani Rodrigues to Plouffe bounded into the backcourt for a turnover and Drexel regained possession.
Mershon knocked down two free throws with 9.7 seconds to play to put Drexel up three. Utah had one last look at the basket as the buzzer sounded, but it fell short and the Dragons celebrated.