Losing the first-half turnover battle, missing open layups, and two points from a team’s best player at halftime usually doesn’t lead to a win.
But in the Battle of 33rd Street, Penn women’s basketball overcame these obstacles in a hard fought 53-49 win over Drexel at the Palestra.
The Dragons (6-5) sprinted ahead to a 18-9 lead after the first quarter as Penn (8-1) struggled to find its groove offensively. Even as the Red and Blue closed the first-half deficit to four points, the hosts were not playing their best basketball, finishing the first half with 14 first half turnovers while shooting 26 percent from the field. Junior center Eleah Parker only had two points — a pair of free throws — in the first 20 minutes of play.
“The first half was honestly a struggle. I thought they outplayed us pretty strongly,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We were fortunate to be only down four at halftime. They beat us on both sides of the ball in the first half.”
The third quarter was a completely different story for the Quakers. Penn made nine of its 13 attempts from the field and three of four from deep in that period. Freshman guard Kayla Padilla scored 10 of her team-high 17 points during that stretch, including two three-pointers, and five of her points came via forced turnovers from senior point guard Kendall Grasela. However, the true spark came off the bench.
Though she does not possess the same scoring prowess as Padilla, backup junior forward Tori Crawford scored 10 points off the bench, including four in the third.
Crawford played most of the ten-minute quarter with the usual starters, replacing sophomore forward Kennedy Suttle in the lineup. Outscoring Drexel 23-14 in the third, Penn's explosive performance proved to be the difference in the game.
“Tori gave us a lot of life, we were out of our rhythm in the first half and we needed to change it up,” McLaughlin said. “Tori gave us some offensive possessions, attacked layups, and gave us a different look by providing a little more physicality.”
Still, even after a scorching third quarter, Penn only found themselves up 41-36 going into the final frame.
Once again, McLaughlin turned to Crawford for much of the period, and the junior reserve delivered. With 10.8 seconds left in the game and the Quakers nursing a two-point lead, Crawford sank both of her free throws to ice the game.
McLaughlin was especially impressed with Crawford considering she had not taken a free-throw during a late-game, high-pressure situation all year. Additionally after she made the first shot, McLaughlin called a timeout to prepare a full-court press.
“I iced my own player so I might want to rethink that [in the future],” McLaughlin said with a laugh. “I kind of iced her but she told me ‘Coach, I got this’ and hit the second shot.”
In the end it was no harm, no foul. Despite not playing its best, Penn defeated a Drexel team ranked in the top 20 for mid-major programs heading into this week. Looking ahead, the Quakers play two games in their trip to Honolulu against Hawaii and Chaminade.
For now, the players and coaching staff will enjoy the next week off to recover and spend time with family before the season picks up again.
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