Photo: Connor McCourtney
It’s been a season full of ups and downs for the young Bulldog basketball squad. But with only about a month left on its conference schedule, all Drake is trying to do is gain some momentum heading into the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
With a pair of important conference matches coming up, the Bulldogs will try to better their conference record in order to earn a higher seed in the MVC tournament.
“We’re trying to finish out conference play right now,” sophomore Aaron Hawley said. “Hopefully we can win a few games, get on a roll and then go to the tournament feeling confident.”
On Wednesday, Drake will go on the road to take on Southern Illinois. And while the Bulldogs are only 1-6 on the road, they have had success against Southern Illinois in the last couple of years. Drake has gone 4-0 in the last two seasons against the Salukis.
“We do a good job focusing against them,” Hawley said. “It’s not that they are a bad team, we play well against them. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday.”
In the first meeting of the season, the Bulldogs defeated Southern Illinois 69-55. Freshman Rayvonte Rice and fifth-year senior Ryan Wedel led the way with 16 points each.
Southern Illinois played without sophomore Gene Teague, the team’s starting center, who was injured the first time around. Teague is second on the team in rebounding and third in scoring.
“They didn’t have their big men; that’s going to be a factor this time around,” Hawley said. “We just have to watch film and see what they do.”
Drake will also square-off against Northern Iowa this Saturday. The Panthers have won the last two conference titles and even if they have lost some seniors, they are still third in the conference.
“We were a little shocked of their defense,” Wedel said of the last time the team faced Northern Iowa, a 69-49 setback on Jan. 22. “They’re one of the better defensive teams in the league. We didn’t execute well, this time around we’ll be settled in.”
The first meeting between the two teams did not go very well for the Bulldogs from the start. Northern Iowa stifled Drake into 19 turnovers as the Bulldogs could not figure out the Panthers’ staunch defense.
“They’re a really good team; they don’t make many mistakes,” Hawley said. “We have to realize that we have to take care of the ball. Just focus and buckle down and take care of the ball.”
Right now, the Bulldogs are 3-7 in conference play and 8-13 overall for the year. And while Drake might not be quite ready to challenge for the MVC title, they certainly have shown improvement throughout the year.
Just last Tuesday, the Bulldogs almost took down conference leader Missouri State, a win that certainly would have caused a splash in the standings.
“We’ve had some setbacks obviously, but we played our best game Tuesday night and we just came up a little short against the best team in the league,” Wedel said.
And with fewer than 10 games remaining on the schedule for Drake, as long as it keeps improving, the team might just get to the MVC tournament with some momentum.
“We improve every day. We can continue to improve and get on a roll here,” Hawley said.