RICHMOND, Va. – Junior forward Courtney Hurt (pictured, left) posted her NCAA leading 16th double-double of the season with 23 points and a career-high 20 rebounds and paced three Virginia Commonwealth University players in double figure scoring as the Rams earned a hard-fought 69-65 victory against Drexel Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
VCU, which defeated the Dragons for the first time since 2007-08, has won eight of its last 10 games and improves to 12-7 overall, 7-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Drexel falls to 12-8, 4-5 in CAA play.
"That was a great win for us today," said VCU Head Coach Beth Cunningham. "Drexel is always so difficult to play. They're so efficient on the offensive end and they make you pay for mistakes. They're one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country but we were very efficient on offense and did what we needed to do to get some critical stops on defense.
"Our shot selection was really good. We made some good decisions and being efficient on the offensive end was the biggest key for us."
Junior Andrea Barbour (pictured, right) added 21 points, three assists and three steals for VCU, while sophomore Sonia Johnson contributed 17 points and a team-high four assists. Hurt's 20 rebounds were four shy of the Rams' 19-year-old single-game record.
"I just had to wait and be patient because I knew they were going to double and triple team me," Hurt said of Drexel's defensive game plan despite her career-high rebounding effort. "It helps when you have other players in the lineup that can score. But in the end, it's all about being patient."
The first nine minutes of the contest featured three ties and four lead changes as VCU went up 14-12 following a 3-pointer by Barbour with 11:41 showing.
Kamile Nacickaite got Drexel within 20-17 at the line with 8:28 to go but VCU used an 8-0 run to pull ahead 28-17 three minutes later. Johnson tapped a pass to Hurt on a fast break that put the Rams up by nine and then hit a jumper two possessions later that gave VCU its largest lead of the game.
The Dragons wouldn't go away and forced a VCU turnover as Tyler Hale found an open Jasmina Rosseel who nailed a triple to pull Drexel within 30-25 with 4:35 to go in the half.
A traditional three-point play by Hurt with 11 seconds remaining in the opening stanza gave VCU a 37-29 lead. However, a jumper by Taylor Wootton with three seconds showing cut the Rams' lead to six at the break.
Hurt pushed VCU's lead back to 41-34 with two free throws less than 1:30 into the second half but a pair of threes by Hollie Mershon and Rosseel put Drexel back on top with 16:37 remaining.
Momentum continued to shift back and forth when Rosseel hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game to give the Dragons a 46-45 advantage with 15:27 to go. It was the last time Drexel would lead, however, as a layup by Johnson (pictured, below) at the 13:43 mark put VCU back on top for good.
"I love it when Andrea and Sonia [can add to the offense], especially in a game like today," said Hurt. "Having them on the team really helps us out. We're able to relax more and it gives us other options on the floor."
Drexel would get within a point three times over the next six minutes as a free throw by Rosseel made it 56-55. Barbour then scored six of the next nine points for VCU and the Rams built a double-digit lead on a jumper by Hurt with 4:18 to go.
A layup by Wootton with 26 seconds showing pulled the Dragons within 68-65 but Barbour made it a two possession game from the charity stripe four seconds later.
Drexel outrebounded VCU 33-29 but the Rams held a lopsided 38-14 advantage in the paint.
"It was certainly one of the reasons we were able to shoot nearly 60-percent for the game," Cunningham said of the Rams ability to control the paint. "We were getting some high percentage shots. Some of that was against their press as we were able to attack and get some baskets out of transition. That was something that we really wanted to do.
"Coming in we knew the style they were going to play defensively and we just wanted to make sure we weren't just settling and that we had an attacking mentality. The points in the paint show that we had some of that. It was critical for us to get on the offensive boards."
VCU hits the road for a pair of CAA contests next week. The Rams battle first-place UNC Wilmington on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m., before facing Northeastern on Feb. 6.