Photos by Jake Bullington.
BY ADAM ROGAN
Timmer stood alone, stonefaced, at the halfcourt circle awaiting tipoff in the Knapp Center on Feb. 1. He looked focused, almost angry. He wanted to upset the Wichita State Shockers, the no. 2 team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Despite keeping the game much closer than many would’ve expected, Drake Men’s Basketball (7-16, 5-6 MVC) fell 77-69 to Wichita State (20-4, 10-1 MVC).
There were 15 lead changes throughout and the Bulldogs led for nearly 13 minutes cumulatively.
The last time these two teams met, it wasn’t nearly as close as Wichita State cruised to a 90-65 win on Jan. 4. Drake never led in that game, and the only time the game was tied was when it was 0-0.
Even though they’re ranked second in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers are still largely considered the best team in the MVC. They’re on the cusp of the NCAA top 25 and have a better overall record than almost half of the teams in it.
Comparing the lineups, Drake’s starting five was a combined five inches shorter and 84 pounds lighter than WSU.
“They’re very complete,” head coach Jeff Rutter said. “They’re strong and they’re athletic and they’ve got length … With that being said, we felt we were right there. We played toe-to-toe for a large portion of that game.”
Drake’s offense may be fourth in the MVC, but Wichita is no. 1. The Shockers defense is no. 2. Drake’s is the worst in the conference.
Still, the Shockers never held a double-digit lead throughout the game and Drake even had a lead in the final 10 minutes.
The Shockers’ physical and near impenetrable shell made scoring tough for the Bulldogs, but junior guard De’Antae McMurray made do.
He led the team with 28 points, a career high and matching his total over the past four games combined, and shot 50 percent from the field and from beyond the arc. The problem was nobody else scored more than eight; that was Graham Woodward, the only other Bulldog to shoot at 50 percent or better. (He was 3-4 with a pair of threes.)
The team’s points leader, junior guard Reed Timmer, finished 2-11 with only seven points, his second lowest scoring game of the season.
Still McMurray remained humble and practical. Two games before he’d been shut out in an overtime win at Missouri State. He’s seen and experienced the streakiness that goes along with basketball.
“We just want to see the next man step up,” McMurray said. “If he’s not getting it that day then it’s the next man’s turn. If I’m not getting it, then somebody has to step up for me. And that’s just how we’ve been playing all season. We just feed off each other.”
Besides McMurray’s career day, the Bulldogs kept the game close with stretches of defensive dominance. They forced nine turnovers and had seven steals. Of course, McMurray led the team with three takeaways, matching his career-high.
Wichita State’s prowess showed down low, in passing and in execution.
The Shockers outscored Drake 36-12 in the paint, outrebounded 43-34, outassisted 19-10 and outshot 47 percent to 37.7 percent. If you removed McMurray’s 8-16 performance from the field goal percentage, the rest of the Bulldog squad shot only 33.3 percent overall.
Drake struggled to match up with the Shockers’ big men. Junior forward Rashard Kelly scored 13 points in 13 minutes off the bench. A double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) was provided by redshirt-junior center Shaquille Morris as well. (Yes, the 6-foot-8, 265-pound center is named “Shaq.”)
Wichita’s scoring was still led by its starting guards, Landry Shamet and Conner Framkamp, who combined for 33 points, each of them shooting 6-10 from the floor.
Drake’s best moments came in the early-to-mid second half.
One possession after an overpursuit by McMurray allowed an easy bucket, McMurray jumped a pass and scored an easy layup. Junior forward T.J. Thomas made a similar on the next possession and found McMurray for a transition three, shrinking the Shockers’ lead to one with just over 17 minutes remaining.
Bolstered by crowd noise — 3,024 in attendance — the Bulldogs went on a 15-3 run that included holding the Shockers scoreless on six consecutive possessions, a drought lasting nearly four minutes.
Still, it’s hard to keep the MVC’s best offense quiet. Wichita State responded an identical 15-3 run to rebuild a six-point lead.
Of course it was McMurray who pulled Drake out of the short-term slump, sinking a three to halve the deficit with 6:16 remaining, but that was as close as the game would get.
With 1:30 remaining and down seven, Drake junior Ore Arogundade missed a three. The Bulldogs didn’t foul and Wichita State used a full 30 seconds to take a shot, made a tip-in, extended its lead to nine and drained the clock to under 60 seconds. The game was effectively over.
“We kind of cooled off in a really important stretch of the game there,” Rutter said.
Still, he had confidence for the coming weeks despite the two-game losing streak.
“(The team is showing) the kind of effort, the kind of toughness, the kind of energy we need,” Rutter said. “We’ll continue to bring that and we’ve got a handful of wins ahead of us.”
The Bulldogs return to the court this Saturday on the road against Bradley University (8-18, 3-8 MVC). It will be the first meeting between the conference opponents this season.