Story by Tad Unruh and Taylor Soule
Two steps forward. That’s what the Drake men’s basketball team took with consecutive wins over Bradley in overtime on Feb. 20 and a BracketBusters dispatch of Green Bay this past Saturday. Drake snapped a four-game skid with the victory over Missouri Valley Conference rival Bradley.
The next contest pits Drake against Southern Illinois at 7:05 p.m on Saturday at the Knapp Center. The Salukis sit last in the MVC with a 4-12 record in Valley competition. Drake sits a spot above the Salukis with a 6-10 MVC ledger.
Though Southern Illinois has struggled to gain ground in the MVC this season, the Salukis’ roster boasts several dangerous players.
Junior Desmar Jackson leads Southern Illinois in scoring with 15.1 points per game. Senior Jeff Early paces the Salukis on the boards, averaging 7.4 rebounds per game.
Saturday’s showdown marks the last regular season contest for both teams. The Bulldogs and the Salukis will vie for momentum entering the March 7-10 MVC Championship.
The Bulldogs will look to stem the inconsistency that has plagued them throughout the season. Drake has improved from the charity stripe and from behind the arc in the past two games.
Against Bradley, Drake converted 38 free throws, but shot just 32 percent from three-point land.
Against Green Bay, the Bulldogs shot 42.7 percent from behind the arc, but drained just 12 free throws on 66.7 percent shooting.
Drake edged Southern Illinois 61-56 on Jan. 30 in Carbondale, Ill. The Bulldogs committed 20 turnovers in that contest. To keep the Salukis at bay, Drake needs to take care of the ball and keep Southern Illinois from scoring easy baskets. Defensively, the Bulldogs need to attack Early on the glass.
The Bulldog faithful awaits news of redshirt senior Jordan Clarke’s health, as he sat out the Green Bay contest last Saturday with a nagging knee injury. Drake head coach Mark Phelps is hopeful of Clarke’s return.
“Jordan (Clarke) has been battling his knee all season long,” Phelps said. “For lack of a better word, he’s had procedures on it medically speaking throughout the season. He came to me on Friday and said, ‘It’s not in a good place.’ So, the hope is that he will be at limited practice this week and be ready to go.”
If Clarke sits on the bench on Saturday, rebounding and physical play will fall on redshirt junior Seth VanDeest, who registered a dominant defensive performance against Green Bay last Saturday. VanDeest finished with two assists and 10 rebounds against the Phoenix.
“Coach (Phelps) was telling us we definitely need to crash the boards, and once I got confident with myself, and the rest of the team started picking up the slack, where (Clarke) brings a lot of energy on both ends,” VanDeest said.
On Tuesday night, Phelps announced the indefinite suspension of senior Matt Bowie and freshman Kori Babineaux for violating team rules. The two did not travel with the team to Indiana State on Wednesday night.
Results from Wednesday night’s game at Indiana State will be available in the next issue of The Times-Delphic.
Drake faces MVC rival Southern Illinois at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday at the Knapp Center. The game marks the last of both teams’ regular seasons.