Zamarripa is a junior news/Internet and English double major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was the night. This was the game. The Bulldogs might not win the Missouri Valley Conference this year or next year. But if they do, we’ll be able to look back on last Saturday night and say, “That was the night. That was the night that the Bulldogs turned their program around.”
Playing against a great opponent, a team that should have been nationally ranked by all means, the Bulldogs played their hearts out.
Wichita State played great basketball. Coming into the game, the Shockers were undefeated on the road and tied for the MVC lead, and they played that way. That’s why the win tasted so much sweeter. That’s why Saturday night was a big deal. Drake beat a team they were not supposed to beat, and they beat them at their best.
Make no mistake, this was the biggest win in head coach Mark Phelps’ much maligned tenure. Phelps has had nothing to show for his three and a half years as head coach. Other than a CollegeInsider.com Tournament bid in his debut season, Phelps’ tenure has been characterized by highly-rated recruits and unfulfilled expectations.
Drake is still far from fulfilling its potential and from meeting the expectations of its fans, but this was a huge step in the right direction. The future is beginning to look promising for the Bulldogs.
For the first time since Drake won the conference in 2008, the Bulldogs looked like a team. The Knapp Center was electric because Drake was not backing down. Sophomore Rayvonte Rice might have had his worst shooting performance of his life, and he still managed 19 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Junior Ben Simons scored a career-high 29 points and made all the shots we needed him to make. Senior Kurt Alexander came off the bench and dropped 17, including six in the decisive third overtime.
The Bulldogs got defensive stops when they needed to. The Bulldogs made shots when they needed to. But most importantly, the Bulldogs never stopped fighting last Saturday night. They kept their composure and out-slugged a heavyweight fighter.
Now, you start looking at the conference standings and see that Drake is tied for third in the MVC, and you realize that maybe Drake is the third-best squad in the Valley. There’s no shame in that, considering that Creighton and Wichita State should be playing in the NCAA Tournament this year.
But if you were there Saturday night, you know what you saw. You saw a team that looks capable of winning the conference.
Next season, Drake will lose redshirt senior Kraidon Woods and senior Kurt Alexander, both important players of its rotation. But we will still have Rayvonte and Ben. Redshirt freshmen Jeremy Jeffers and Karl Madison will be even better and we’ll have junior Seth VanDeest back.
Suddenly, Drake is looking very dangerous. With a 10-2 record at the Knapp this season, the home court magic is starting to come back to Drake. The Bulldogs are ready to be a winning program once again. It all began with a 93-86 triple-overtime win over Wichita State.