Photos: Luke Nankivell, Derek Nipper
In front of a raucous crowd of 5,665, the Bulldogs delivered one of their best wins in years.
Led by junior Ben Simons and sophomore Rayvonte Rice and senior Kurt Alexander the Bulldogs held on to upset the Cyclones 74-65 to improve their record to 2-0 for the first time since 2005. Rice and Alexander returned to the court after their two-game suspension.
Drake’s patient shot selection made the difference in Tuesday’s game in pursuit of Iowa’s coveted “Big Four” title.
Against a deep and powerful Cyclone lineup, Drake head coach Mark Phelps knew his team needed to be smart about shooting.
Drake did just that, recording 50 percent shooting from the floor compared to just 36.8 percent from the Cyclones.
Simons played a key role in the Bulldogs’ patient play, leading the team with 24 points and four rebounds. Rice and Alexander also reached double-figured for the Bulldogs. Rice finished the game with 18 points, while Alexander chipped-in 10 points.
With 13 lead changes and eight ties throughout the game, it was evident the game was going to come down to the wire. Iowa State tacked on the first point on the scoreboard with a free throw. Drake responded immediately as Simons netted the first of his four three-pointers to put the Bulldogs on top, 3-1.
At 15-13, Rice sank a 3-pointer to force a two-possession game at 18-13. The Bulldogs lead dissipated rapidly, though, as Iowa State scored on several critical possessions to tie the game at 26-26.
A basket by Alexander lifted Drake above the Cyclones at 28-26 as the minutes ticked away. Drake wasn’t done scoring just yet, though, as a layup by redshirt senior forward Kraidon Woods gave the Bulldogs a loud applause and a 30-27 lead entering halftime.
The Bulldogs looked ready to roll in the second half as a basket by redshirt junior forward Jordan Clarke gave Drake it’s largest lead yet at 43-37.
Down 43-41, the Cyclones sank a pivotal 3-pointer to push them ahead of the Bulldogs at 44-43.
Drake’s patient offense stepped in again and the Bulldogs began pulling away. A couple of key defensive stops down the stretch and some timely shooting closed out the Bulldogs’ surprising 74-65 win over the Cyclones.
“They put five guys on the floor all of which can score in double digits,” Phelps said. “I thought the first key for our team was to get off to a good start, and I feel like we did that. We had a heightened awareness of their offensive ability.”
Practice was also critical in Tuesday’s win and the Bulldogs’ preparation was evident on the court, according to Phelps.
“When we needed grit and toughness, we had it, and we needed poise and composure, I thought we had that,” Phelps said. “Our guys really embraced the preparation for this game (by) zeroing in and focusing in.”
Plagued by an injury-riddled lineup, Phelps hopes Tuesday’s win over Iowa State marked the first step toward a healthier team.
“I was concerned about our rhythm and our chemistry and we can start to build on that now that we have guys back,” Phelps said.
Drake will hit the road for their next match and will get ready for an important non-conference tournament. The Bulldogs take on Mississippi on Friday in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands at the Paradise Jam. Tip-off is set for 2:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs will look to build-off their early-season success. After defeating Iowa State, there is a lot of hope from the Bulldog faithful that Tuesday might have been the beginning of a special season.