By DRAKE LOHSE
With an 0-5 record in men’s basketball, the UMKC Roos might appear to be a breeze to anyone unfamiliar with their program.
Take a closer look, and you’ll understand the challenge at hand that the Drake Bulldogs faced on Wednesday night. Prior to their game against Drake, the Roos lost only by a combined score of 17 points against their last two opponents, including a 87-80 OT loss to Morehead State two weeks ago. Earlier in November, they even held their own in a 14 point loss to Iowa.
On the Eve of Thanksgiving, the Bulldogs traveled to Kansas City with a renewed conviction. After outright beating their first two opponents early in the season, the Bulldogs were handed a brutal loss at the hands of Colorado 100-71. Looking to redeem their record, Drake welcomed Texas State to the Knapp Center, edging out the Bobcats in a 75-69 nail-biter.
The newly looking Drake Bulldogs had proven to themselves that they could handle and overcome adversity. That experience would come in handy Wednesday night.
The Bulldogs came out firing from the jump, with seniors Nick Norton and Brady Ellingson hitting threes in the opening minutes. Drake’s fast-paced offense, featuring high shot frequencies has become their calling card, and nothing in the past few weeks has slowed their roll.
“We were trying to get downhill and force them (UMKC) to foul,” head coach Darian DeVries said. “We wanted to get to the rim and force the action.”
The Roos continuously matched the physicality of the Bulldogs shot-for-shot. With only seven minutes left in the first, UMKC trailed Drake only 17-20, with 13 fouls called between the two teams. At the halftime buzzer, UMKC had narrowed that Bulldog lead to only one point, and two entered the locker room with a score of Drake 30, UMKC 29.
Early in the second half, the Roos would take their first lead of the night, as turnovers continued to mar the efforts of the Bulldogs. As the second half wound down, a D.J. Wilkin’s three ignited a 10-0 Drake run, giving them a 52-49 lead with around seven minutes left in the game. With only 24 seconds remaining, Drake held a 66-63 edge over the Roos.
UAB transfer Nick Norton dribbled the shot clock out, then delivered an ambitious three that ultimately fell short. The veteran move didn’t leave much for the Roos to work with, and on the final possession, UMKC was forced to launch a 28-foot Hail Mary that failed to connect.
UMKC head coach Kareem Richardson was cognizant of the Drake attack after the game. “I thought our defense was really good at the end,” Richardson said. “We had a couple lapses there with that 10-point lead and they (Drake) just chipped away at it. We probably played 90 percent of our possessions really good and 10% not so much in crucial spots for the game.”
For the second game in a row, the Bulldogs have shown that they are able to withstand rough waters and close out games. Drake will need to utilize that experience, as well as reduce their high number of turnovers—they had 14 to UMKC’s 12 Wednesday night. They play host to Boise State on Tuesday night.
“I’m proud of our guys, that was one they had to grind out and find a way tonight,” said Drake head coach Darian DeVries. “We got down 10 and had a chance to fold, but they kept fighting and made some plays down the stretch. That’s back-to-back games they’ve been able to close out a game.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS DONAHUE