BY MATT GOGERTY | PHOTO MOHAMAD SUHAIMI
The Bulldogs returned home on Saturday Dec. 3, after four straight games on the road three of which were in Alaska. Drake took on Fresno State at the Knapp Center and fell in overtime for their fifth straight loss.
After four losses on the road, the Bulldogs were looking to find solace at home, where they had their last, and only win of the season, against Simpson on Nov. 19. But, Drake, who also happens to share the Bulldog namesake with Fresno State, was unable to overcome good 3-point shooting and post defense that Fresno State brought with them.
Fresno State wasted little time in getting to work from behind the arc: draining eight overall, with seven falling in the first half. Fresno shot 40 percent from the 3-point line to Drake’s 29.6 percent for the total game.
The story of Saturday’s game was defense.
It was obvious Fresno State was willing to use size to their advantage. Fresno State placed 6-foot-5 Jaron Hopkins in position to guard Drake’s scoring leader, Reed Timmer who is 6-foot-1, reducing his effectiveness in making shots. Timmer scored eight points in Saturday’s game, which is well below his average of 15.3 points per game.
In the first half, Drake was forced to take shots from the paint and behind the 3-point line, because attempting shots in the post, left them with little to no chance. Fresno State had eight blocks, almost all coming from Drake’s layup attempts.
The saving grace in the first half for Drake was good shooting from Billy Wampler and T.J. Thomas, who combined, made 19 of Drake’s 29 points in the first half.
Wampler went 2-3 from 3-point land and Thomas 5-6 overall for field goal attempts. Thomas was also the only one to pile through heavy Fresno defense to convert on layups in the post.
“I made my first three in Alaska in a while, and that gave me some confidence,” Wampler said. “But, it’s just kind of like once I make a good play on the defensive end that’s kind of been pushing me to play harder offensively as well.”
The first half ended in a 41-29 Fresno lead.
Fresno’s lead would stretch to as far as 20 in the second half, with just over 10 minutes left of play. But, a 10-1 Drake run helped narrow the deficit and bring Drake within striking distance.
De’Ante McMurray made a layup in the paint that brought Drake within three, fouled on the way up, he got a chance from the free-throw line, which he was also able to convert on. Bringing them within two, 67-69, with less than two minutes of play.
McMurray would get an opportunity from the free throw line once again and convert on both of his opportunities, which tied the score 69-69.
Fresno turned the ball over and gave Drake a virtually perfect set up, with 31 seconds left of play and a full 30 second shot clock.
McMurray brought the ball up and effectively waited out the clock. But, as he ran into the paint to try and get Drake their winning points, he was met by heavy Fresno defense.
The game went into overtime tied 69-69.
Wampler opened up overtime with a 3-pointer that gave Drake the lead.
Fresno State was able tie it up by a free throw and a dunk, and then another dunk gave them the lead at 76-74.
Drake would tie it up once more by way of McMurray, who converted on a layup.
Fresno State got the final points in the last five seconds, which solidified their win at 78-76.
This is the Bulldogs second loss in a row that was within two. Their last game against DePaul ended in a similar fashion.
“We just need to step it up in practice and trust each other as team,” McMurray said. “We’re just one step away from where we need to be as a team.”
Drake will play Jackson state on Dec. 10 at the Knapp Center at 2 p.m.