Mershon's layup with 20 seconds left lifts Drexel past Utah for first WNIT title
PHILADELPHIA -- Spurred by Hollie Mershon's go-ahead layup with 20.6 seconds remaining, Drexel rallied to beat Utah 46-43 in the WNIT title game Saturday, setting off a wild celebration at the Daskalakis Center with fans rushing the court and streamers floating down from the rafters.
"There's definitely nothing better than playing on your homecourt and winning a championship game and cutting down the net you were playing on for the whole season," said Mershon, wearing a newly made WNIT champion T-shirt and sitting in front of the championship trophy.
Mershon, named the tournament MVP, finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in her final college game.
Fellow senior Taylor Wootton had 16 points, including the 1,000th point of her career for the Dragons (28-10), who had already become the first Philadelphia Division I women's team to reach a postseason tournament championship game.
Drexel, which set a program record for wins, also became just the fourth mid-major team in the 16-year history of the WNIT to win the championship, following Toledo (2011), Missouri State (2005) and Creighton (2004).
"This was the perfect finish for a great team," Drexel head coach Denise Dillon said. "It was obviously a long season but this team wanted as many games as possible. I wanted to coach this team 100 more games. And this team wanted to play 100 more games. I couldn't be happier with this outcome and giving the senior class a championship."
Senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues led Utah (23-14) with 12 points, including a 3-pointer that put the visiting Utes up 43-42 with less than three minutes remaining.
But following that bucket, Utah didn't score again the rest of the way. In the final minute, the visitors committed a key turnover in the backcourt, which allowed Drexel to call a timeout and put the ball in the hands of Mershon, who sliced through the lane for the go-ahead basket.
"I was missing layups all game," Mershon said. "At that point, the one motion going up for a layup wasn't working for me. I saw the girl kind of cut me off, so I jump-stopped, she flew in the air and I went up for it. So the jump-stop really worked for me."
Following another Utah turnover, Mershon, who missed nine of her first 10 shots, hit two free throws to put the Dragons up by three with 9.7 seconds left.
The Utes then put the ball in the hands of their leading scorer, but 6-foot-4 junior forward Michelle Plouffe, who averaged 21.6 points and 13.8 rebounds through Utah's first five WNIT wins, misfired on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Plouffe finished with nine points on 3-for-14 shooting and got a game-high 14 rebounds for the Utes (23-14), who were playing their fifth WNIT game on the road.
Afterward, Utah head coach Anthony Levrets said playing in Drexel's gym was "fun" but revealed that so much traveling wore his team down.
"We have literally traveled almost 7,000 miles and spent 18 hours on a bus," Levrets said. "We haven't had a direct flight in a month. It's been really, really hard. But it's been fun. It was a great opportunity for our kids to build a special memory together that they're never going to forget."
Mershon, one of five players at Drexel to reach 1,600 career points, will also leave school with a special memory. And finishing her career with six consecutive postseason victories is even more gratifying because it came on the heels of Drexel's gut-wrenching 59-56 loss to nationally ranked Delaware in the Colonial Athletic Association finals March 17.
"At this point, it's really indescribable," Mershon said. "I'm obviously ecstatic and very emotional. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end my career here."