Drake will aim to separate from the pack this weekend when it takes on Evansville at the Knapp Center on Sunday at 7 p.m.
Five teams in the Missouri Valley Conference had either a 7-6 or 6-7 record in league play heading into Tuesday’s action. The Bulldogs (13-11, 6-7 MVC) are tied with Northern Iowa for fifth place, while Illinois State and Missouri State sit in third. Wichita State is back atop the conference standings with an 11-2 record in league play after Tuesday’s upset.
The upset? Evansville defeated No. 15 Creighton 65-57 on its home court. The Purple Aces (12-12, 7-7) moved into fourth place. The Bluejays suffered their second-straight loss and are now in second place. They are one half-game behind the Shockers.
Drake took on Illinois State in Normal, Ill., last night. The Bulldogs defeated the Redbirds 77-60 on Jan. 15 at the Knapp Center.
The Bulldogs were without their second leading scorer for the second consecutive game. Junior Ben Simons sat out the last two contests due to being diagnosed with Mononucleosis. The leading 3-point shooter in the MVC will be re-evaluated tomorrow before a decision is made about his status for Sunday’s game.
Simons missed his first game of the season for Drake last Saturday. The Bulldogs had one of their worst offensive showings of the season as they were blasted by Missouri State, 57-39.
“We missed Ben, but we didn’t miss him to the tune of 27 percent shooting,” Drake head coach Mark Phelps said after the loss to the Bears. “Certainly his productivity alone would have been a different story tonight, but we were really out of sync and out of rhythm.”
Shooting percentage has been a strong indicator of the Bulldogs’ success this season. Drake is 7-0 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field, and they are 0-7 when opponents fire 50 percent or better from the floor. Drake has not allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent in a game in its last nine outings. The Bulldogs are 5-4 during that stretch, but they have lost four of their last five.
“(We had) two subpar offensive performances on the heels of the game against Wichita State, where we were really clicking on all cylinders on the offensive end and played great defense,” Phelps said. “We still, I think, have a tendency to allow our offense to affect our defense, and I think there was probably a measure of that (last Saturday night) as well.”
Drake defeated Wichita State 93-86 in triple overtime on Jan. 28, arguably its best win of the season. The Shockers, along with Creighton, are expected to represent the MVC in the NCAA Tournament, barring a massive collapse from either team in the final month of the season.
Without Simons, Drake will depend more heavily on its leading scorer. Sophomore Rayvonte Rice is averaging 16.8 points per game, good for third in the MVC.
“It is what it is. You just have to move forward understanding that other guys are going to have to step up,” Phelps said about losing Simons. “Now you’ve got to dig down, bear down and figure out a way.”