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Bulldogs hold off Air Force rally, hang on for 62-60 win

Photos: Joey Gale

Trailing Drake by two points in the game’s final possession, Air Force had two 3-point attempts rim out as the Bulldogs survived to earn a 62-60 victory last Saturday at the Knapp Center.

Drake (5-3) led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but the lead dwindled as the Falcons roared back to pull within one in the game’s final minute.

With 42.2 second remaining, Air Force (3-2) elected to defend Drake for the entire 35-second shot clock instead of intentionally fouling to get the ball back. Redshirt freshman Karl Madison drove to the hoop and drew a foul with 15 seconds left.

Madison split the pair of free throws to push the Bulldog lead to two. Air Force would not go down quietly.

The first of two 3-point shots fell short, but redshirt junior Jordan Clarke could not collect the ball as it went out of bounds. Air Force got another good look off from beyond the arc, but it hit the back iron of the rim at the buzzer to hand Drake the win.

“This basketball team continues to be a work in progress,” Drake head coach Mark Phelps said in a Drake athletics press release. “We’re not nearly as good as we can be. Individually we can be better, and also collectively we can get better. So it was good to learn some lessons tonight in a game that we won.”

Junior Ben Simons made four treys and led the Bulldogs with 16 points. Sophomore Rayvonte Rice added 15 points and collected team-highs with eight rebounds and three assists.

Clarke also had eight rebounds while adding 10 points. He had a team-high four steals.

Drake led the entire game despite Air Force closing the gap to a final shot attempt. The Bulldogs last field goal came with 4:29 left in the game.

Both teams made six 3-pointers, but Drake shot 40 percent from the field compared to 39 percent by Air Force. Both teams had nearly identical numbers in points in the paint, points off turnovers and bench points.

“Our game plan was to defend their cutting,” Phelps said. “They cut as hard as any team in college basketball. They play fast, they run their offense extremely hard, and if you’re not ready to defend and be physical and guard on your defensive end for 35 seconds at a time, then you’re going to have a long night. I was really happy overall with our effort on the defensive end. We gave them too many threes in the second half, but overall I was happy with our defense.”

Air Force’s Michael Lyons, who averaged 20.5 points per game heading into Saturday’s contest, was kept in check by the Drake defense. Lyons only managed 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Using a 13-2 run late in the first half, the Bulldogs held a 10-point lead at the break. Simons had 10 of his 16 points in the game’s initial 20 minutes.

“It was great to be back in the Knapp Center,” Phelps said. “It really helped us down the homestretch. Our guys really like to play on this court.”

Des Moines was much more friendly to the Bulldogs than Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho, was last Wednesday. Boise State made 14-of-22 shots from beyond the arc and shot 61 percent from the field to give Drake its worst loss of the season, 108-64.

Rice had 19 points and five rebounds to lead Drake, while Simons contributed 14 points.

Drake couldn’t keep up with the Broncos, who left the nets on fire. The Bulldogs shot 43 percent from the field and were outrebounded 42-24.

Five Boise State players notched double figures. Drew Wiley came off the bench and shot a perfect 5-for-5 from behind the arc. He led the Broncos with 17 points.

“Boise State played terrific, especially on the offensive end,” Phelps said. “We knew coming into the game that they’re really good on offense. Their offensive numbers were good, and they shoot the ball well from three, from several positions, and they really are a good passing team. I think that’s what sets them apart.”

Drake takes on Eastern Michigan at the Knapp Center this Thursday. Tip-off is set for 8:05 p.m.


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