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Drake’s tough week ends with second-place Wichita State

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Drake rounds out arguably its toughest week of the Missouri Valley Conference season with a tilt against Wichita State at the Knapp Center this Saturday at 8 p.m.

Heading into last night’s MVC action, the Shockers (17-3, 8-1) were tied with No. 15 Creighton for first place. Wichita State took on Evansville (10-9, 5-4) last night while the Bulldogs hosted the Bluejays (18-2, 8-1).

Drake (12-8, 5-4) dropped a 66-52 decision at Northern Iowa on Sunday night. Senior Kurt Alexander continues to produce in the back court, and he netted a career-high 21 points. The Panthers snapped Drake’s four-game winning streak.

The Bulldogs’ top two scorers were kept in check. Sophomore Rayvonte Rice was held to just nine points while junior Ben Simons collected only seven points.

“There is a formula to win on the road, and we didn’t follow it,” head coach Mark Phelps said in a postgame press conference. “Give UNI credit for that.”

Recently, Alexander has been Drake’s most productive player off the bench. The six-foot guard is averaging 12.0 points over his last six games.

“Kurt’s playing well. We need him to play well,” Phelps said. “It is a good sign out of Kurt, and hopefully we can build on that and get back home and get back to playing better basketball.”

The Bulldogs last faced Creighton in Omaha, Neb., on Jan. 3. The Bluejays won that game 76-59, thanks to 24 points from the Valley’s top player-of-the-year candidate, Doug McDermott.

Drake will take on Wichita State for the first time this season. The Shockers’ lone loss in MVC play came at the hands of Creighton on Dec. 31, 2011. The Bluejays won that contest 68-61.

Wichita State is producing the second most points per game in the MVC (77.4), and it ranks first in defense, allowing just 60.8 points per contest. The Shockers have won their MVC games by an average of 16.7 points, also first in the league.

The balanced Wichita State squad is led by three seniors. Big man Garrett Stutz and guards Joe Ragland and Toure Murry average 12.4, 12.3 and 12.2 points per game, respectively.

Stutz also ranks fourth in the conference in rebounding, averaging 7.6 per game.

“They’re really good. They’re the top two teams in our league,” Phelps said about Creighton and Wichita State. “We’ve got to play them some time. We’ve all got to play them, but every game is tough. Every game in our league is tough. I think that’s what the Missouri Valley has proven this year.”

In the latest Collegiate Basketball News RPI Report, the MVC ranked No. 8 among the 32 Division I conferences.  Last season, the Valley ranked No. 11 at the end of the season.

At this point in the 2011-12 season, both Creighton and Wichita State are expected to snag NCAA tournament spots.

But in the world of college basketball, nothing is guaranteed.

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