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Bulldogs hold Sycamores in check, win 60-43

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Drake dispatched Indiana State 60-43 at the Knapp Center last Friday, accomplishing two key objectives.

The rout of the Sycamores lifted the Bulldogs above .500 at 13-12 overall and at 7-7 in the Missouri Valley Conference, pushing Drake into sixth place. If the Bulldogs finish above seventh place, they bypass the State Farm MVC Championship’s opening round on March 8.

Indiana State entered the game in sixth place, and Drake trailed just behind in seventh place. With both teams battling on the MVC tournament play-in bubble, the Bulldogs knew that it was a must-win game.

Drake’s first-half play mirrored its must-win mindset as the Bulldogs powered an early 17-4 run en route to 50 percent first-half shooting.

With 1:13 remaining in the first half, Indiana State’s Brittany Schoen nailed a 3-pointer, narrowing the deficit to 10 points at 29-19. Just 17 seconds later, Drake freshman Kyndal Clark answered with a bucket from behind the arc, rounding out a 32-19 halftime lead.

The Sycamores opened the second stanza with a statement, scoring five straight points to close within eight at 32-24.

At the 15:17 mark, senior guard Brittnye McSparron stepped in with back-to-back baskets, extending the Bulldogs’ advantage back to double figures at 38-28.

Indiana State’s offensive drive wasn’t finished just yet, though.

The Sycamores powered six straight points, edging within two possessions at 38-34. Despite a tense turnaround, the Bulldogs maintained composure.

“For the first time in a long time, we were like, ‘OK, we’re not just going to give in, and we’re going to grind this out and fight back,’” senior forward Rachael Hackbarth said.

Then, Hackbarth handed the ball to sophomore guard Morgan Reid. Reid netted consecutive layups, restoring Drake’s eight-point advantage at 42-34.

“Morgan (Reid) did a good job of communicating and collected the ball at the right time,” Hackbarth said.

Less than 30 seconds later, senior Amber Wollschlager’s 3-pointer swished through the hoop, securing Drake’s double-digit advantage for good. One possession later, redshirt freshman Carly Grenfell responded to Wollschlager’s bucket with a trey of her own, giving the Bulldogs a 48-34 lead.

Another Reid layup completed Drake’s 12-0 run, and she said it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We just had a run when we needed it,” Reid said. “It was the spark we needed to pull away from them.”

The Bulldogs did just that, closing out the win with two Hackbarth baskets.

“Our team had really good chemistry in the second half,” Reid said. “It was a much-needed win. We just need to build off this momentum.”

Hackbarth continues to build on her already notable season. She registered her 18th double-double of the 2011-12 campaign with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

She sits in second place in the nation for the most double-doubles this season, and for Hackbarth, it’s an almost unbelievable statistic.

“I feel like I’m watching someone else perform,” she said.  “It doesn’t feel like that’s me when people tell me that, so it’s definitely an honor.”

Clark chipped in nine points and five rebounds. Reid and McSparron recorded identical eight-point efforts.

The MVC tournament is just around the corner, and the Bulldogs are eager to finish the 2011-12 regular season on a strong note.

“We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and hope other things work out, that we are in control of other teams,” Hackbarth said.

With avoiding the play-in slot in mind, the Bulldogs aim to notch three more key regular season wins. For head coach Amy Stephens, last Friday’s victory marked a pivotal step.

“There’s still a lot of basketball to be played,” Stephens said. “If we’re chipping away and finding a way to win, then we’re playing for seeding every night down the stretch of these last games.”

Drake took on Illinois State at the Knapp Center yesterday. Details from that game will be available in the next issue of The Times-Delphic.

The Bulldogs take on Bradley this Friday night in Peoria, Ill. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.

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