Photo: Connor McCourtney
Playing at home against the best team in the conference, with professional golfer and Drake grad Zach Johnson watching from the stands, the Bulldogs were primed to deliver an upset. Boy, did they come close.
In a game that featured 16 lead changes, six ties and no lead larger than seven, the Bulldogs fell to the Missouri State Bears, 73-70.
Drake took a 62-61 lead with a little under three minutes remaining in the second half. The Bears responded with a 7-0 run that appeared to put the game out of reach.
But the Bulldogs came back and cut the deficit to 71-70, before a couple of free throws from senior Nafis Ricks pushed the Bear lead to three. Freshman Rayvonte Rice missed a near half-court shot as time expired, ending Drake’s aspirations to upset the leading team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“There’s no doubt when you play a lot of close games, and you win them like they have, and some in very dramatic fashion, it gives you a little bit of a swagger and a belief that you’ll win it again,” head coach Mark Phelps said.
Phelps was not happy with some of the calls that went against the Bulldogs in the closing minutes. With Drake down 64-62, fifth-year senior Ryan Wedel got a questionable foul call as he hauled in a rebound.
“We had four guys around the ball and the official makes a foul call,” Phelps said. “In a very physical game, I didn’t expect Ryan to get a foul call there.”
With the loss, Drake’s record now stands at 8-13 overall and 3-7 in MVC play.
The Bulldogs have recently taken heat in a Des Moines Register article for having the lowest home attendance average in the MVC. However, the atmosphere on this Tuesday night was nothing short of electric, with over 4,000 fans.
With fans pushing on with every bucket, the Bulldogs used the lift from a loud and raucous crowd. The biggest beneficiary might have been Wedel, who was absolutely on fire.
Wedel finished the night with 21 points, including 6-of-10 from three point range, three assists and two rebounds.
Also contributing were sophomore Ben Simons, who chipped in with 12 points, and junior transfer Kurt Alexander. Alexander was able to penetrate the Bears’ defense as he posted 13 points to go along with four assists.
The Bulldogs gave the Bears all sorts of trouble largely because of their three-point shooting. Drake shot 10-of-18 from behind the arc and shot 46 percent overall from the field.
Sophomore Seth VanDeest and Rice struggled with foul trouble all game, as they both saw less than 25 minutes of action. VanDeest finished with four points and three rebounds, while Rice recorded seven points and five rebounds.
Drake will hit the road for its next two contests. They’ll square off against Illinois State this Sunday and will face Southern Illinois in Carbondale next Wednesday.