AP Sports Writer
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. -- As they were cutting down the net to celebrate their second straight Colonial Athletic Association title, Delaware coach Tina Martin and her players didn't care about blowing a 17-point lead or their failure to make a basket in the final six minutes.
None of that mattered to the 15th-ranked Blue Hens.
What did matter is they held off Drexel 59-56 on Sunday to extend their school-record winning streak to 25 games and earned an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
"When that buzzer sounded, I was the happiest person in the United States of America," said Martin, who gleefully snipped the last string on the net.
Delaware (30-3) is a host school in the first and second rounds of the NCAAs and will almost certainly open at home next Sunday.
The Blue Hens have won 42 in a row in the CAA. Few of those victories were more difficult than this one.
Top-seeded Delaware led 46-29 with 14:35 left before the Dragons (22-10) rallied to go in front 56-55 with 1:10 remaining. After Trumae Lucas made two foul shots for the Blue Hens with 44.4 seconds to go, Drexel's Abby Redick was called for traveling.
Delaware star Elena Delle Donne then sank two free throws with 9.9 seconds left, and Drexel never got off a final shot.
Delle Donne scored 28 points, but the Blue Hens made only two baskets in the final 12 minutes and none after a three-point play by Akeema Richards with 6:17 remaining.
Yet Delle Donne insisted it was Drexel playing well rather than Delaware blowing it.
"When you're up on Drexel, you never feel comfortable until the clock hits zero," said Delle Donne, the tournament MVP. "They're a phenomenal team. They don't go away. I'd definitely say it was a great comeback on their part."
Taylor Wootton scored 21 for the third-seeded Dragons and Hollie Mershon had 18. Drexel also lost to Delaware in last year's championship game.
"Was I disappointed with the large deficit? Yeah," Dragons coach Denise Dillon said. "But I wasn't surprised that our girls came back. They wouldn't quit."
Drexel lost by nine points and five points to Delaware during the regular season, and soon after halftime it appeared as if this game would be blowout.
The Blue Hens let a 12-point cushion dwindle to three at the break, then opened the second half with a 16-2 run. Delle Donne started the surge with a three-point play and added two layups, the last to provide the Blue Hens a 17-point lead.
But Drexel used a 13-0 run to get to 48-45, making Delaware sweat it out. Sort of.
"The people we had on the floor, they don't panic," Martin said. "They're very calm. We've been through other tight games. I thought they handled the situation very, very well. We executed when we needed to execute."
Delle Donne scored 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting to stake Delaware to a 30-27 halftime lead.
The Blue Hens led 6-5 before Delaware's Akeema Richards popped a 15-footer and Delle Donne made a baseline jumper and a 3- pointer to spark a 15-4 run that included two 3-pointers and a pair of free throws by Lucas.
After two free throws by Richards made it 28-20 with 4:42 left, Delaware went scoreless until Kayla Miller made a layup off an air ball by Lucas just before the buzzer.
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