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It has been a year of firsts for the Penn women’s basketball team, and on Thursday afternoon, the squad accomplished yet another feat.

For the first time since 2006, the Quakers were victorious over Drexel in a 67-65 overtime win at the Palestra.

“We played Drexel last year and they just picked us apart. We weren’t really competitive with them,” said coach Mike McLaughlin. “To come back and change the outcome and change what was done by us, I would say it was very gutsy on our part.”

After they were blown out, 62-31, in last year’s matchup against the Dragons, the Red and Blue certainly entered this year’s contest as the underdogs. Stacking the odds against Penn further was the absence of injured senior captain Jourdan Banks, who had started in each of the first seven games this year.

The opening of Thursday’s game resembled portions of last year’s contest, as Drexel (5-4) dominated the paint for most of the first half. But Penn (6-2) quickly made adjustments that curbed the Dragons’ inside game, leading to what became a game of runs competitive enough to require an overtime decision.

Drexel began by facilitating their preliminary run with backdoor cuts and baseline drives, affording the Dragons an early 6-0 lead. Penn also relied on scoring close to the basket to keep up. Freshman Kara Bonenberger, who started the first game of her career in the place of Banks, began with three layups and a jumper to provide the Red and Blue with their first eight points of the game. The game went back and forth throughout the rest of the half, and Drexel led at the break, 22-21.

Though the team only shot 31 percent from the field in the first half, the key in keeping Penn competitive was its defense and composure. Penn forced seven turnovers and only gave up three in return.

“In the first half, it was back and forth the whole time and then the second half we really stepped up on ‘D,’” sophomore Alyssa Baron said. “We forced their guards to take tough shots. They weren’t used to that pressure. We pushed them out beyond the arc instead of [them] catching it where they could easily score.”

Penn began the second half by establishing momentum and building a run. Within the first three minutes, the Red and Blue took the lead 27-26 after a Baron jumper. A shootout developed during which Drexel senior Kamile Nacickaite knocked down a three — her first of six on the afternoon. However, Penn built up an 11-point lead, its largest of the game, during a 17-4 run and led, 50-39, with under five minutes to go.

The Dragons would not go away, as they slapped the Red and Blue with a full-court press. The Quakers had a great deal of trouble with it, as Drexel forced six turnovers en route to a 15-6 run which left Penn up, 56-54, with 1:04 remaining.

The final minute became a tug-of-war with frequent changes in possession via turnovers and missed shots. With 23 seconds to go, Penn turned the ball over again, giving the Dragons the final shot with the shot clock unplugged. Drexel stalled for the first 20 seconds and called a timeout with 2.2 seconds left on the game clock.

The inbound went to Dragons senior Marisa Crane. She drove left, past Baron, and was able to finish at the basket, laying in an easy shot just before the horn sounded to send the game into overtime.

“Watching that last-second shot go in hurt,” Baron recalled. “But pushing into overtime we just sat down and got ready to play five more minutes and just push through.”

In the extra period, Penn was finally able to overcome Drexel’s press. The Quakers beat the Dragons down the floor and capitalized with easy layups and trips to the foul line.

“The last four minutes of regulation we got a little hesitant,” McLaughlin admitted. “They kind of pushed us, trapped us, we didn’t handle it well. But to start [overtime] they did it again, and we started to score a couple of layups or at least a couple of foul shot attempts because of that. I thought that helped us.”

Drexel did keep it close at 65-62 with 27 seconds to go, but a crucial block by Knapp on Nacickaite, followed by two Baron free throws, eliminated Drexel’s chances. Nacickaite hit her sixth three just before the buzzer, bringing her total for the day to 24 points, but it did not factor into the result as the Quakers’ snapped their four-game losing skid to the Dragons and picked up their second overtime win of the season.

Bonenberger led all scorers with a career-high 27 points and captured the double-double with her 11 rebounds. Close behind her was Baron with 26 points and 7 boards in her 44 minutes on the floor.

“With everything, it’s all about the team,” Bonenberger said humbly. “My team helped me get a lot of points. I just was out there trying my hardest.”

McLaughlin was not as reserved with praise for his rookie forward.
“Jourdan Banks is hurt … and Kara’s minutes are going up. She played a lot of consecutive minutes today, and I think she was really fatigued. But she’s got a knack to score the ball around the basket — nothing fazes her.”

“To come out with 27 and 11 as a freshman, in this situation, what else can I say? I thought she was great.”

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