After a contested first half, it was the Bulldog defense that put the game out of reach for the Tigers. Drake forced Texas Southern into 22 turnovers and a 39 percent field goal percentage, as the Bulldogs pulled ahead by as much as 22.
“I thought we did what we should have done,” Head Coach Mark Phelps said. “We have to look at the film, but 39 percent and 22 turnovers, for now give our guys credit.”
Still, Texas Southern raced off to a good start in the first half. Its 2-3 zone defense gave the Bulldogs a lot of open looks from three-point range, but they were not able to knock them down. Texas Southern jumped to an early 15-9 lead, before Hawley keyed a 17-6 Drake run to end the half with a 26-21 advantage.
“We had a slow start, guys were nervous about playing the first game,” Wedel said. “Aaron was huge, he played really well. He helped us off the bench.”
Hawley came off the bench and had a couple of nice finishes inside and hit a pair of corner 3-pointers to give Drake a huge boost with 10 points in the first half. Hawley ended the game with 15 points and three rebounds.
“Everyone on the team knows that Aaron is capable of those kinds of things,” Phelps said. “He gave us a lift when we couldn’t hit a shot.”
Holding a five-point lead, junior transfer Kurt Alexander and sophomore Frank Wiseler started to open up the Tigers’ zone by penetrating the lane. In the first half, the Bulldogs settled for a lot of perimeter shots, but in the second they were able to set the tempo offensively, which proved costly for the Tigers.
“Kurt and Frank are excellent penetrators,” Hawley said. “They open up the defense and allow us to knock down shots.”
The play of the game might have come with the Bulldogs up 37-28 and 12 minutes remaining in the second half.
After Hawley rejected a lay-up, Wiseler pushed the ball and drilled a perfect pass to the corner to find Wedel, who swooshed in one of his six three-point field goals. The Bulldog lead would never shrink to single digits after that.
“I thought our chemistry was great; it feels good to get that first win of the season,” Hawley said.
Texas Southern’s lack of movement on offense facilitated the Bulldogs on the defensive end of the floor. Using isolation and the pick-and-roll, the Tigers were not able to open up a disciplined and aggressive Drake defense.
“They are longer and athletic and taller than us,” Wedel said. “We kept them out of the paint. We couldn’t let their length bother us.”
Wedel led all scorers with 20 points, a career-high as a Bulldog. Wedel also dished out three assists.
“Ryan, he’s our rock. He’s really modeling excellence in everything he does,” Phelps said. “He’s trying to do everything at a high level and our guys feed off of him.”
Sophomore center Seth VanDeest controlled the paint on defense and finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Freshman Rayvonte Rice recorded six points and two assists in his debut.
The win broke a two-year streak of season-opening losses for the Bulldogs. Two years ago, Drake fell to Butler, 58-48, and last year IUPUI toppled the Bulldogs, 88-82.
Up next for Drake is a trip to Iowa State on Wednesday.
Photos: Carter Oswood?