Photo: Ashton Weis
Drake lost 81-58 at Wichita State in its final game of the regular season last Saturday. With the loss, the Bulldogs fell into a five-way tie for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
Unfortunately, Drake finished last in the tiebreaker scenarios, and the Bulldogs (16-14, 9-9 MVC) earned the seventh seed in the State Farm MVC Championship for the second straight year.
Drake will play 10th-seed Bradley for the second consecutive year in the latter of Thursday’s two play-in games. The Braves defeated the Bulldogs 63-48 in last year’s contest, but Drake swept the season series this year. It is the fourth-straight year that the Bulldogs will participate in one of the play-in games.
The Shockers (26-4, 16-2) were too much for Drake last Saturday, as the regular season MVC champs rolled to their eighth-straight victory and 16th win out of their last 17 games.
Junior Ben Simons, playing in just his second game since returning from mono, had a career-high seven treys to lead Drake with 21 points.
Trailing 27-15 in the first half, the Bulldogs rallied to slice the gap to four. Wichita State responded with a late run to take a 36-25 lead into the break.
The Shockers came out firing after the break, scoring 10 consecutive points. Drake could not defeat Wichita State for a second time this season.
“We just had some stretches there where we needed somebody else to help with the scoring,” head coach Mark Phelps said. “We didn’t get scoring from guys until later in the game.”
Phelps was referring to his star sophomore Rayvonte Rice. Rice had 14 of his 18 points in the second half.
The Bulldogs made just 35.6 percent of its shots against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. The Shockers are No. 1 in the MVC in field goal percentage defense and No. 2 in points allowed. They are also the Valley’s top rebounding team, and they out-rebounded Drake 44-32.
“We couldn’t get consistent scoring,” Phelps said. “I think that was really the big part of the game.”
Five players scored in double figures for Wichita State. Ben Smith led the team with 18 points.
“At times, our defense will affect our offense, and I thought it did that a little bit tonight, too,” Phelps said. “I thought our guys really battled. They (Wichita State) were just really good tonight.”
Last Wednesday night, Drake won its final home game of the season 78-63 over Southern Illinois.
Simons saw his first action after missing five games, and he had 14 points. Rice recorded his fourth career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bulldogs won on Senior Night to assure its first winning season since 2008-09. Seniors that were honored before the game include Kurt Alexander, Cory Parker, Greg Whitaker and Kraidon Woods.
Drake shot 55.8 percent from the field, its fourth-best shooting performance of the 2011-12 season. The Bulldogs moved to 9-0 on the season when shooting 50 percent or better.
Tip-off for Thursday’s game against Bradley is set for 8:38 p.m., or it will start a half hour after the first game ends. The winner of Drake’s game will take on second-seed Creighton in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. on Friday.