Story by Tad Unruh
Photo by Joel Venzke
On Wednesday, Drake handily defeated the Indiana State Sycamores 67-56 for its first win in Terre Haute, Ind., since 2008. Both teams were coming off BracketBusters wins on the weekend. Indiana State won in overtime against the Iona Gaels as Drake dismantled Green Bay.
The game started out with both teams trading baskets, a tight fit until freshman Micah Mason knocked down a 3-pointer with four minutes left in the half. That basket charged the Bulldog squad with 11 straight points and a 27-21 lead.
The Bulldogs never looked back from there. From the under 14-minute timeout, the Drake lead never dropped below nine, and stretched to as much as 15.
Drake also welcomed back senior Jordan Clarke with a 10-point-10-rebound performance, who sat out the Green Bay game with battered knees.
Drake turned in a balanced scoring effort as junior Richard Carter led with 15, redshirt senior Seth VanDeest put in 14 and Clarke and senior Ben Simons with 10 each. The Bulldogs shot 45.1 percent from the field but an underwhelming 25 percent from three-point range.
Junior Jake Odum led Indiana State with 13 points. The Sycamores shot 34.8 percent from the field and 32 percent from beyond the arc.
Saturday night for the Drake Bulldogs (14-16, 7-11 MVC) wasn’t just about basketball, it was about family. Sometimes a family must say goodbye. It was even more heartbreaking with the 66-63 loss to the Southern Illinois Salukis (14-16, 6-12 MVC). The night was about honoring three seniors in Simons, Clarke and Chris Hines.
They were greeted with raucous applause at the beginning of the game as each was given a framed set of his own jersey, each surrounded by family and fans. The emotions turned on the court as Drake started hot early.
The game started off quickly as the MVC foes traded baskets. Hines drained a jumper to start a 13-2 Drake run early on in the game. But the Salukis answered by chipping it back to a Drake 32-30 lead at halftime.
Halftime was a celebratory atmosphere, honoring one of Drake’s basketball legends, as well as many of Drake’s former players. Drake’s own Dolph Pulliam has been a part of the Drake family for over 24 years. He is retiring after the season is over.
He is well-known for being a part of the Drake Bulldog 1969 Final Four team that played against UCLA’s John Wooden and Lew Alcindor (later to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the national semifinals. After graduating from Drake, Pulliam went on to become the first African-American news and radio broadcaster in Iowa.
Pulliam later returned to Drake as the athletic department’s marketing and promotions director. Throughout his time as faculty, Pulliam has produced the Beautiful Bulldog Contest, Halloween Hoops, the holiday food basket program and the holiday wish program.
Currently, Pulliam is director of community outreach and development, though he will retire this spring. He was presented with an honorary key to the city, a proclamation for Dolph Pulliam Day in Des Moines, and the Donald V. Adams Drake Spirit award.
The Bulldogs continued their vaunted three-point attack into the second half leading by as much as eight.
But then the Salukis’ Jeff Early stole the seniors’ spotlight. Down the stretch, Early scored 14 points in the last 12 minutes and was the pure scorer on the floor. Drake head coach Mark Phelps lamented on the defensive pressure on Early.
“He’s been playing better, as most players have been playing better down the stretch,” Phelps said. “We just couldn’t stop him enough obviously with 26 points.”
Early started a 13-5 run that culminated with a tie game at 55-55. That is where the Salukis took control. Drake battled back and closed within one point as Simons hit a 3-pointer to make it 63-64, but Early was given two shots from the charity stripe and nailed both of them, downing the Bulldogs on a disappointing Senior Night.
Simons was blunt about the loss.
“We got hot a little bit there at the end, but so did they, and that’s the kind of team they are,” Simons said. “They made some tough shots, and we gave them credit and we didn’t get enough stops.”
Clarke was just as pointed about his team’s performance on the emotional day.
“It wasn’t that it was Senior Night, we just lost,” Clarke said. “A loss is a loss. It hurts your stomach no matter what it is.”
The Bulldogs shot 48.8 percent from the floor and were led by the seniors with Simons putting in 15, Clarke 12 and Hines scoring nine points. The team had 16 turnovers and shot 41 percent from beyond the arc.
The Salukis shot a scorching 51.9 percent from the field and were led by seniors Early with 26 points and Desmar Jackson with 15.
Drake opens the Missouri Valley Conference Championship on Friday in St. Louis, Mo. The Bulldogs will take on Bradley also 7-11 in MVC play, at 6 p.m.