Column by Eric Hartmann
Hartmann is a junior politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Phelps’ aspirations for his first Thursday night bye in the Arch Madness Missouri Valley Conference Championship evaporated when freshman Micah Mason’s three-point field goal attempt at the buzzer fell short of the mark on March 2. Despite a horrific 0-4 start to Valley play for the Bulldog men, Phelps and the Bulldogs still had a chance.
A few tough home and road wins for the Bulldogs meant that a win against meager Southern Illinois on Senior Night would earn the Bulldogs the No. 6 seed and an automatic bid to quarterfinal competition in the MVC tournament on Friday.
Senior Night on March 2 meant the Bulldogs were sure to have a large fan base and strong motivation to send radio announcer Dolph Pulliam off with a thunderous home victory over the cellar-dweller Salukis.
The fans showed up, but the Bulldogs did not. The Salukis forced the sloppy Bulldogs into 16 turnovers, shot 51 percent as a team, dictated the pace of the game and ended the Bulldogs’ season on a sour note. The Bulldogs even allowed the Salukis’ lone star Jeff Early to double his season average and score 26 points. The Bulldogs were handled on their home court by the worst team in the MVC.
Saturday’s result, however, was hardly an anomaly for the Phelps-led Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have been, at best, an inconsistently average team all season, and inconsistent performers on offense and defense throughout Phelps’ tenure.
In Arch Madness, the Bulldogs looked like a strong, capable team on Thursday night. They countered every punch made by a pesky Bradley squad, and finished the game strong to win by 15 points.
On Friday, the Bulldogs continued to appear to be a team willing to fight for a win. The team looked to tie the game at 47 apiece with nine minutes to play. However, a missed three-point field goal led to a 7-0 Creighton scoring punch. Drake lost the will to compete and the ability to score. The team was held without a field goal from the 8:46 mark until scoring a few meaningless baskets in the closing minutes of a disappointing conclusion to the season.
I’d like to paraphrase an ESPN interview of the coach of the national champion Kentucky Wildcats, John Calipari. After a stunning Wildcat loss to a meek Georgia Bulldogs team Thursday night, the coach claimed he had never led a team that lacked cohesiveness and the will to fight for a win this late in the basketball season. Coach Calipari has taken three separate teams to the Final Four.
Our Bulldogs have a few statement wins under Coach Phelps — however, they commonly lose that will to fight in key games, against both tough and not-so-tough opponents. This inability to compete commonly occurs in key road games and even occurs at home.
Need evidence? Simply examine box scores of the Bulldogs’ visits to Creighton and Northern Iowa. Or glance at the play-by-play of stunning home collapses against Illinois State and Northern Iowa.
Following the surprising “resignation” of Drake women’s coach Amy Stephens in 2012 immediately after an inspiring run to the women’s NIT, Drake fans must wonder if a similar fate is in store for Coach Phelps.
Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield Clubb once said that Drake athletics are constantly in a battle of “David versus Goliath.” With a coach who consistently finishes 7-11 in Valley play with rosters talented enough to achieve much more success, is the Drake men’s program really equipped with a capable general for its battle against Goliath institutions?