BY ADAM ROGAN
Down one with 10 seconds left, De’Antae McMurray found junior Billy Wampler under the basket. Guarded by a taller defender, he went up for the layup but missed. A roar from the crowd showed disapproval when a foul wasn’t called. Regardless, Missouri State pulled in the rebound.
Two free throws later, the Bulldogs were left with a desperation three at the buzzer. Redshirt-junior Graham Woodward dribbled the ball across halfcourt and threw up the shot, but it bounced off the rim and Drake Men’s Basketball’s losing streak was extended to seven.
Drake’s Men’s Basketball’s (7-21, 5-11 MVC) two games against the Missouri State Bears (16-13, 7-9 MVC) have been decided by a combined four points. The Bulldogs won their first meeting, 72-71 in overtime at Missouri State, but lost 76-73 when the Bears came to the Knapp Center last Saturday, Feb. 18.
Missouri State is second in rebounding and third in blocks in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. Drake is eighth and ninth in those categories, respectively.
Much of Missouri State’s prowess in rebounding is due to the presence of 6-9 forward Alize Johnson, a junior Drake head coach Jeff Rutter called the “best rebounder in the league.”
He proved Rutter’s compliment on Friday, recording a double-double with 23 points and a season-high 21 rebounds, 17 of which came in the second half.
That may have been Drake’s biggest downfall. MSU nearly doubled Drake in rebounding: 46-28. Offensive rebounds: 11-5. Second-chance points were the most more damning: 16-2.
In addition to his size, Johnson’s shooting ability made him almost impossible to defend. He shot 2-6 from beyond the arc and also went 11-13 from the free-throw line.
Despite Johnson’s dominance, the Bulldogs had their own points of superiority.
They finished 50 percent from three, amounting to 36 points. Ball movement was better on Drake’s end too: 15 assists to MSU’s nine.
Defense earned more than a few extra possessions for the Bulldogs. They had nine steals, 19 points off turnovers and 13 fastbreak points. The Bears only had one steal and seven points off turnovers with zero points on fastbreaks.
Depth was also on Drake’s side. Bench players scored 25 points. Missouri State’s bench only contributed three.
Still, the Bulldogs’ backcourt-focused lineup took awhile to get going as the Bears scored the game’s first eight points.
Six minutes into the game, with Drake down nine, four starters subbed out to make room for a more defensive-minded lineup. The Bulldogs switched to a full-court press and the tide started to shift.
It started with a steal and a fastbreak layup from McMurray that trimmed the deficit to seven. A couple minutes later, 6-foot-10 forward Casey Schlatter tied the game at 19 with his fifth three of the season.
As usual, the Bulldogs chances relied on accurate shooting. They shot 42.4 percent from the field in the first half and 58.3 from 3-point land, finishing the on a 31-13 run to take an eight-point lead into the locker room.
“There were just a few stretches in a couple games where we didn’t play like we know how we can play,” Woodward said.
The Bulldogs were on top for most of the second half, but couldn’t put the Bears away. Drake never led by more than eight. Missouri State 3-point shooting improved by 16 percent in the second half; Drake’s fell by 17.
“We needed to stretch that lead early in the second half,” Rutter said, “that was a big difference right there … We shoot in the second half like we did in the first? We’re high-fiving everybody right now.”
More than shooting from the field, the Bears sealed their comeback at the line. They went 16-18 on free throws in the second half, while Drake was only 8-10.
Timmer led the Bulldogs with 15 points on 4-11 shooting and was a perfect 6-6 on free throws. Woodward tied him with 15, 13 of which came in the first half when he went 3-3 from beyond the arc. McMurray wasn’t far behind with 13 points to go along with seven assists.
The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament starts in only eight days. Drake doesn’t have much time to reverse its momentum. Even though Saturday’s game was close, three of the losses during Drake’s losing streak have been decided by double digits.
Before the skid, Drake was in the middle of the conference. Now it’s in ninth.
The Bulldogs may be a shooting-oriented team, but they haven’t scored more than 80 since Jan. 18. Drake was held to just 53 on Feb. 7 against conference no. 2 Illinois State and only scored 60 on Feb. 11 against Indiana State, the worst team in the MVC record-wise.
Timmer is still Drake’s points leader at 15.8 points per game and is now in the top 10 scorers in DU history with 1,314 career points. But that doesn’t mean he’s been at his best in 2016-17.
As shown in the first half against MSU, he has a tendency to shoot first/pass second. He’s more likely to try to draw fouls than the average guard. And when he doesn’t get to the line, his stats and the team suffer. He’s only shooting .426 this year, .036 below what he shot last year. He’s also getting to the line less, almost one shot less per game.
He isn’t the only Bulldog who hasn’t been seeing shots fall as consistently in 2016-17. Drake’s shooting percentage (.399) is second worst in the MVC and has been falling steadily: .361 over the last nine games with only one above .400.
Still, Rutter managed to find an upside, mentioning how much he’s enjoying his role as head coach and evoking confidence heading into the season’s final games.
“There’s no gloom and doom here,” Rutter said. “… I’m a lucky guy to be able to coach these guys.”
Drake retakes the court tonight at Loyola. The last time the two teams met was the first game of the conference season, which Drake won 102-98.
The Bulldogs will return to the Knapp Center on Saturday against Bradley, the final game of the regular season.