Story by Taylor Soule
Photo by Jeremy Leong
Senior Ben Simons sank three back-to-back 3-pointers en route to a 74-71 overtime win versus Indiana State on Saturday night at the Knapp Center. The victory improved Drake to 11-11 overall and 5-6 in Missouri Valley Conference play.
Unpredictable plays characterized Saturday’s contest from start to finish. Junior Gary Ricks Jr. drained a half-court shot with 0.1 seconds remaining in the first half. Simons needed only a minute and 32 seconds to nail a trio of 3-pointers in the second stanza. Fifth-year senior Chris Hines sealed Drake’s win with a pair of late free throws on his first and last trip to the charity stripe.
Drake head coach Mark Phelps praised the Bulldogs’ performance against a dangerous Indiana State squad.
“We got a terrific win tonight against arguably the hottest team in the Valley,” Phelps said.
The Bulldogs struggled to stop Indiana State’s versatile offense early, as a trio of unanswered baskets yielded a 20-12 deficit with 7:59 left in the opening stanza. Senior Jordan Clarke answered the Sycamores’ early run with a run of his own. The 6-foot-8 forward drowned consecutive layups along with a free throw to pull Drake within a possession at 20-17.
With Indiana State poised to enter halftime with a 34-29 advantage, Hines found Ricks in the center of Ron Pearson Court. Ricks’ half-court heave swished through the net as the buzzer sounded to narrow the Sycamore lead to a single possession at 34-32.
The MVC foes traded momentum to open the second half until Simons hit a trio of treys. The 6-foot-8 forward used a pair of screens to down his first 3-pointer at the 16:54 mark. Less than a minute later, Simons sank another bucket behind the arc. He drained another three with 15:22 left in regulation to lead Indiana State 44-38.
Freshman Joey King followed Simons’ lead. Despite late foul trouble, King registered a pair of key baskets as regulation ticked away. With Drake behind a point at 62-61, King nailed a jumper to reclaim the Bulldog lead. With 1:09 left in regulation, King scored inside to put Drake up 67-65.
Though the Sycamores evened the scoreboard at 67 apiece to force overtime, Phelps lauded King’s late presence.
“Joey (King) has great courage and composure as a freshman,” Phelps said. “We really played our offense through Joey King down the home stretch. It’s a sign of what we can expect throughout his career.”
Simons’ outside presence again energized Drake as he drowned another 3-pointer to open overtime. Clarke scored inside with 3:39 to play to lift Drake at 72-67. The Sycamores responded with consecutive buckets to narrow Drake’s advantage to a tally at 72-71.
Indiana State fouled Hines with six seconds remaining. Hines netted both attempts to seal the Bulldogs’ 74-71 victory. Though Hines boasts 81.3 percent free throw shooting on the 2012-13 season, he faced unfamiliar pressure at the charity stripe on Saturday.
“It was very different on the free throw line, but I am grateful for that shot and opportunity,” Hines said.
Four Bulldogs reached double figures in scoring against the Sycamores. Simons led Drake with 21 points. Clarke finished with 13 tallies. King contributed 12 points. Junior Richard Carter added 11.
Saturday’s overtime win heralded another surge of optimism for the Bulldogs, who have struggled with inconsistency throughout the 2012-13 campaign.
“It’s safe to say it’s an up-and-down season,” Simons said. “We have grown as a team, though.”
The Bulldogs will take on Illinois State on Wednesday night at the Knapp Center. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.