AUBURN, Ala. – As early as the layup line following halftime, and ascending during her team’s customary win-or-lose postgame salute with the pep band and student section, Blanche Alverson couldn’t control her emotions.
The tears started flowing and never stopped as the 126th game of Alverson’s career didn’t end the way she or the Auburn women’s basketball team had hoped – their dreams of a WNIT championship slayed by the Drexel Dragons 56-43 Saturday night before 1,421 fans at Auburn Arena.
“It was just tough. It really is,” Alverson said. “You never want to go out with a loss, but we just didn’t play well.”
A splendid run it was for the Tigers (19-15), whose promising start to the season was marred by an 8-game losing streak in conference play, yet salvaged by three heartwarming home victories in the postseason to show their fans a glimpse of their potential on the horizon.
“There’s really no limits for this team,” Alverson said. “They have another year of experience in this system. There’s nothing but positive things to say about the future of this program.”
Sadly for Alverson and Najat Ouardad, Auburn’s two senior starters, they won’t be a part of that future chase for an NCAA tournament bid. They’ll settle for a WNIT quarterfinal finish and, in Alverson’s case, four years of memories.
“It definitely gives the ones returning confidence,” first-year coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “Our seniors should be very proud of themselves. They wanted to be better than they were last year.”
After Alverson’s 3-pointer just 17 seconds after tip, and another Alverson 3-ball to cut Drexel’s early lead to 13-11 with 11 minutes, 13 seconds left in the first half, the Dragons caught fire and the Tigers went ice-cold. Drexel’s 17-1 run closed the period, sustained by 15 missed field-goal attempts by the home team.
A quick 6-0 run in the first 2:12 of the second half gave Auburn hope, but Drexel responded with its own run to keep control.
Junior guard Tyrese Tanner (16 points, 6 rebounds) and Alverson’s 15 points weren’t supplemented with much offense elsewhere. Leading scorer Hasina Muhammad was 2-for-13 from the floor, and the Tigers shot 27 percent overall, plus 6-for-17 at the free-throw line.
Drexel senior Hollie Mershon led the way with 19 points and 13 rebounds, helping her Dragons (26-10) advance to the WNIT semifinals against Florida.
Junior center Peyton Davis played just 12 minutes, giving way to reserve forward Cabriana Capers. The Auburn bench hit just one of 14 field-goal tries.
Alverson finishes with the following Auburn women’s basketball career statistics and ranks: 126 games played (ninth), 213 3-pointers and 618 3-point tries (both are second), 34.5 3-point shooting percentage (eighth), 1,244 points (18th) and 602 rebounds (19th). She’s one of 10 Auburn players to complete her career in the top 30 for scoring, rebounds and assists.
She’ll be competing in the women’s 3-point shooting challenge in Atlanta this Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.
Seated next to Tanner (who averaged a school-record 23.5 points in four WNIT games this season) at the postgame podium, Alverson had one last challenge to her younger, returning teammates.
“I’ve got high expectations for you,” Alverson said with a smile. “Don’t let me down.”