Photo: Elizabeth Robinson
Illinois State dealt Drake a 66-51 defeat on Sunday afternoon at the Knapp Center, dropping the Bulldogs to 13-13 overall and 7-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Redbirds’ 22-5 second half run doomed Drake’s hopes for a third straight victory.
The Bulldogs started three freshmen — Carly Grenfell, Liza Heap and Kyndal Clark — for the first time in the 2011-12 season. Drake’s young players provided an early offensive boost, scoring 13 of the Bulldogs’ first 15 points. The team shot 45.8 percent from the floor in the first half.
The Bulldogs maintained a two-possession advantage until Illinois State netted back-to-back baskets, giving the Redbirds a 19-18 edge with 10:43 to play in the opening period.
Sophomore Morgan Reid answered with two key layups, lifting the Bulldogs on the scoreboard at 24-19.
With 1:25 remaining, Illinois State narrowed the deficit to a single possession at 35-32, handing Drake the first half’s final shot.
Clark nailed a jumper as the buzzer sounded, giving the Bulldogs a 37-32 halftime advantage.
“The first half was really good for us,” Grenfell said. “We were making shots. We seemed to be clicking. And then the second half, nothing was falling, and we kind of fell apart after that.”
Illinois State opened the second half with a statement, powering a 22-5 offensive run.
Two Rachael Hackbarth free throws closed the gap to 10 points at 54-44, but the Redbirds maintained control, clinching the victory with two layups.
In the second stanza, the Bulldogs shot just 20.8 percent from the floor on 5-of-24 shooting.
For Drake head coach Amy Stephens, Sunday’s second half skid was a reminder of her team’s youthful, offense-excited roster.
“When you have a younger team, shots energize you,” she said. “When you have a veteran team, they understand that your defense has to energize you because that’s what’s going to win you basketball games. In the second half, we didn’t have the energy and the effort to get the stops we needed when the shots weren’t falling.”
The Bulldogs nabbed just five steals compared to the Redbirds’ nine. The senior Hackbarth, Drake’s leading scorer, also noted her team’s defensive lapse.
“Our offense was dictating our defense too much,” she said. “We didn’t bring that energy and that balance. We had to stop trading buckets with them or getting empty possessions on offense and letting them go score on the other end.”
On the offensive end, Hackbarth registered her 19th double-double of the 2011-12 campaign with a team-high 21 points and 13 rebounds. She is tied for first place in the nation for the most double-doubles this season.
Reid finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Grenfell contributed eight points.
Katie Broadway led Illinois State with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Tomorrow, the Bulldogs take on Bradley in Peoria, Ill., and Stephens is ready to beat the Braves for the second time this season. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
“We beat Bradley already, so that’s going to be a huge game on Friday, and Northern Iowa on Senior Night is going to be a tall task,” Stephens said.
Despite Sunday’s difficult defeat, the Bulldogs are optimistic entering the regular season’s home stretch.
“We’ve got to win our next three games for sure if we want to have a chance at the postseason,” Grenfell said.
With the State Farm MVC Championship in mind, Drake looks to play consistently on the practice court, Stephens said.
“Every week, we just want to continue to practice well,” she said. “Improvement is occurring. When you lose, it’s a lot harder to see. We just have to continue to get better.”