PHILADELPHIA - Senior captain Alyssa Baron capped the largest comeback in program history and gave the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team its fifth straight win with the game-winning jumper with 2.6 seconds left. The Quakers, who trailed by 19 in the first half, also claimed bragging rights over Drexel with the 46-44 win in the Battle for 33rd Street on Saturday afternoon at The Palestra.
At 5-2, Penn has now matched the best seven-game start in program history and has won five straight non-conference games for the first time in 13 years (the 2000-01 squad won seven in a row). Prior to the tenure of head coach Mike McLaughlin, Penn had never won five of its first seven games, but the Quakers have now done so in two of the last three years.
Freshman Sydney Stipanovich, who tied the game with 1:31 to play, finished with her second career double-double and was one rebound shy of becoming the first Quaker in 16 years with 20 boards in one game. Stipanovich had 10 points and 12 rebounds in the second half alone and finished with a team-high 14 points.
Following Stipanovich's game-tying putback, the Penn defense - as it did throughout the matinee matchup - forced a tough shot and Stipanovich pulled down the rebound. When Penn missed a chance to go-ahead on the ensuing possession, that defensive process repeated itself.
That gave Penn possession with 14.0 seconds left and Coach McLaughlin put the ball into the hands of the program's No. 4 all-time leading scorer. Baron drove to her right, found space near the baseline and let go a running jumper that found the bottom of the net.
Drexel, which lost in overtime after tying the game at the buzzer in its last visit to The Palestra, got off a deep three, but it bounced off the back iron and Penn topped the Dragons for the sixth time in the last seven meetings at The Palestra.
If you only watched the first half, it would have been hard to believe the final score. The Quakers had just seven points with under five minutes to play in the opening half. At that point, the Red and Blue had made just two baskets and had seven turnovers. Drexel (4-7) capped a 13-0 run and led 26-7 with 4:33 until the half.
Exactly a year ago to the day, Drexel cruised to a 77-50 win over the Quakers at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. But despite that recent history and the current 19-point deficit, the resilient 2013-14 Penn Quakers were undeterred.
The Red and Blue began to turn things around with the final 10 points before the break. Junior Kara Bonenberger converted a three-point play to break a seven-minute scoring drought. Then junior Renee Busch hit a three and Baron sunk a pair of free throws before Stipanovich closed the half with a layup. That stretch pulled the Quakers within 26-17 at intermission.
Penn then scored the first five points of the second half and the 15-0 run had the Quakers suddenly within four, 26-22, with 18:32 to play.
Drexel maintained that edge for about 10 minutes. The Quakers got as close as two and never trailed by more than six in that time. Penn finally broke through when junior Kathleen Roche single-handedly carried the Quakers into the lead. Down 36-32 with 6:53 to play, Roche buried her second three of the half. After a defensive stop, Roche took the ball straight to the basket and sunk a go-ahead layup with 6:14 to play.
The Dragons struck back with six straight, but Roche came up big once again. Trailing by five with 2:28 to go, she knocked down another three. That led to another stop and Stipanovich tied the game on the next possession, 44-44.
Stipanovich and Roche led the Quakers with 14 and 11 points, respectively. Baron, who was 1-for-14 from the floor before connecting on the game-winner, finished with seven points and a season-high 10 rebounds. Bonenberger had five points and seven boards, while senior captain Meghan McCullough added four points and six rebounds. Stipanovich led the team with two blocks. Sophomore Keiera Ray returned from a knee injury and scored one point in seven minutes in her season debut.
Penn was just 5-of-25 (20.0%) in the first half, but shot at a 36-percent clip in the final 20 minutes. The Quakers were 1-of-11 (9.1%) from three in the opening half, but 4-of-5 (80.0%) from beyond the arc in the second half.
Penn outrebounded Drexel, 30-17, in the second half and 50-42 overall. Penn's 50 rebounds were the most in a game under Coach McLaughlin as the Quakers forced a lot of misses. Penn held the Dragons to 17-of-65 (26.2%) shooting, including 6-of-28 (21.4%) from three. The Quakers also held a 15-2 edge in second-chance points.
The campuses of Penn and Drexel border each other at 33rd Street and each year the visiting team walks to the opposing gym. The teams have split the last four meetings and Drexel owns a slight 13-11 edge in the all-time series.
The 19-point comeback topped the program record set last year at St. Francis Brooklyn when Penn topped the Terriers, 61-60, after trailing by 18 with 7:29 to play on Dec. 5, 2012. Baron also hit the game-winner in that game with 6.4 seconds to go.
Following a week off for the holiday season, the Quakers will fly to Miami where they will bring in the New Year with a matchup against the Hurricanes. It will be Penn’s first-ever visit to Coral Gables and the first all-time meeting with Miami (Fla.). Tip off is set for 2 p.m. on Jan. 1.