Poised to pull an all-time comeback at the Colonial Athletic Association women's basketball tournament, Drexel's bid was blunted Saturday afternoon in its own Daskalakis Athletic Center when Elon's Meme Garner nailed a three-pointer for a nine-point lead with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left in regulation. The Phoenix then went on to take a 57-45 victory and repeat as conference champions.
The triumph sends Elon (25-7), the tourney's third seed, on to the NCAA tournament with an automatic bid. Drexel (26-7), which had earned the No. 1 seed through a tie-breaker with James Madison, is not considered likely for an at-large bid.
However, the Dragons hold a slot to the women's NIT, which they won in Philly in 2013.
It's the second time in two seasons that Elon claimed the championship by beating the opposition on its own court. It downed host James Madison in last year's title game.
"We consider every court our home court," said Elon coach Charlotte Smith, a former North Carolina all-American.
For Drexel, it was a disappointing setback after winning all previous 15 home games at the DAC this season, including one in which the Dragons set a program record by erasing a fourth-quarter 10-point deficit to beat Elon.
"It's been an amazing year, exceeding many expectations and putting themselves in position to play such a game as we did today," said Drexel coach Denise Dillon, a former Villanova star.
Dillon's squad had good shots, but they didn't go down, and right from the outset Elon jumped to an 18-9 lead after one quarter and eventually to a 36-17 lopsided advantage with 5 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third period.
But the near-sellout crowd of 2,441 saw that the Dragons still had some fight, and the home team began to chip away until a layup by Niki Metzel brought them to within six points, 51-45, with 4:01 left in the game.
"Sad for [the players] that it didn't go our way," Dillon said. "But they fought till the end. I did think we were getting some good looks, a lot more good looks than some other games against them, and they're a great defensive team."
Following the 28-15 run that brought Drexel close, the Dragons had two straight chances to make it even closer. But freshman Hannah Nihill, out of Cardinal O'Hara High, missed a layup after a steal by senior Kelsi Lidge. Then Metzel missed a three-point attempt before Garner's dagger got Elon its cushion back.
"We're always fighting, we don't believe in giving up," said Lidge, "And I think we showed that today. And that fight is going to build and build."
Nihill had 14 points, while Bailey Greenberg scored 13 for Drexel.
Elon's Malaya Johnson had 14 points, while Shay Burnett, voted the most outstanding performer of the tournament, and Saadia Monford both had 13 points.
Drexel wasn't helped by the absence of senior Sara Woods, who was sidelined after suffering a bad bruise on her leg in the final minute of Drexel's stirring overtime victory over Delaware on Friday.
"Sara Woods has proven to be one of our top scorers and top defenders and that's something we pride ourselves on, our defense," Dillon said. "But her scoring and wanting the basketball is a big difference and that was evident today.
"We just did not have enough time to get Niki Metzel in the right mind-set that you have to shoot anytime you have a look. I thought she did a nice job, but it was obvious we missed Sara Woods today."
Drexel's Lidge and Greenberg, Elon's Johnson, along with Delaware's Samone DeFreese and James Madison's Kelly Joshuta made the all-tournament team.