Zamarripa is a junior news-Internet and English double major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would be hard to find someone who has been more critical of Drake’s basketball programs in the last four years than me. I have criticized head coach Mark Phelps’ stagnant offense, our inability to score inside, our inability to create dribble-drive penetration and our inability to win on the road countless times. But last Friday night against Creighton, I saw the kind of fight and desire that has eluded the Bulldogs in the last four years.
I want to point out a specific instance in the game against Creighton. With 4:33 remaining in the game, Drake was down 61-48. In the entire second half, the Bulldogs had scored only 14 points. But here they were, down by 13 and playing against a top 25 opponent in front of a crowd that was essentially 90 percent Creighton fans. It would have been incredibly easy to just quit and mail it in. They beat Bradley in the play-in game and had hung around against a good Creighton team. Why not just quit? That’s good enough for Drake, right?
The Bulldogs did not quit. They did not quit like they did against Iowa State and Saint John’s last season or against Boise State this season. They fought and made an improbable last push, and for that, I give them all the credit in the world.
Drake got the game within 63-60 and put themselves in a position to have a shot. The Bulldogs lost 68-61. It wasn’t an out-of-the-world performance by Drake. They made only one of their 15 3-point attempts and went through a span of about seven minutes in the second half when they had absolutely nothing going on offense. But, somehow, they managed to make a game of it. They played and fought hard. No one fits this description more than redshirt junior Jordan Clarke. I have not seen a gutsier performance from a Bulldog since I’ve been here. Clarke finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. He hit the floor countless times and impacted the game on both ends of the floor.
When you are talking about a program that has won just one conference title in the last 40 years, it’s unreasonable to demand excellence. But what we do have a right to demand is for Drake to play hard and they did that against Creighton.
Look, I’m not saying we should be content with where we are. I don’t want to romanticize the Bulldogs’ performance last Friday. We did lose. We did show disappointing flashes of our stagnant offense. We did not get junior Ben Simons the ball in the second half. We allowed sophomore Doug McDermott (a 47.9 percent shooter from long range) to have three wide-open 3-point attempts. That’s unacceptable. A winning program can’t have those sorts of lapses, and that’s why we lost.
Make no mistake; Drake improved a lot this year. It’s hard to see progress when this team hasn’t gotten out of the MVC quarterfinals in Phelps’ tenure. However, this is a much better team than last season’s squad (that squad lost to Bradley 63-48 in the play-in game), and they should be ready to take a huge step in the Valley next season.
Drake will lose seniors Cory Parker, Greg Whitaker, Kraidon Woods and Kurt Alexander. I don’t think people realize how important Alexander is for the Bulldogs. He’s the one player that gives them a different look and plays at a different speed. Drake will miss his scoring and his playmaking ability. Other than that, Drake will still have Simons and sophomore Rayvonte Rice. Another year for redshirt freshmen Karl Madison and Jeremy Jeffers should help them improve. The Bulldogs will also have Seth VanDeest and Reece Uhlenhopp return from injury. This team should by all means contend for a top-three finish next season. If Drake has the same passion and desire that they showed against Creighton, the Bulldogs will have a big year. Good things happen when you don’t quit.