Photo: Eduardo Zamarripa
Drake 65, Bradley 49
Drake scored the first 12 points of the game and never relinquished the lead as the Bulldogs overwhelmed Bradley in a 65-49 victory in the opening round of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championship in St. Louis last Thursday night.
The Braves closed the gap to single digits just twice in the second half, and Drake earned its second win in the conference tournament in the last four years.
Sophomore Rayvonte Rice made 7-of-13 shots to lead all scorers with 18 points. Junior Ben Simons struggled from the arc for most of the game, but he nailed two 3-pointers in the last three minutes to close out the win. Simons finished with 16 points.
The Bulldogs dominated play inside, outscoring Bradley 40-22 in the paint. The Braves shot just 34 percent for the game while Drake connected on 45.5 percent of its shots.
“The strength of their basketball team is getting in the paint, so we wanted to keep it tight, stay in our gaps and force them to shoot it from outside,” head coach Mark Phelps said.
Drake set the tone right from the start. Rice scored the first five points, and the Bulldogs jumped out to a 20-7 lead in the first 10 minutes of the first half.
Bradley implemented a zone defense and responded with a 6-0 run to pull within seven points. But that was the closest the Braves got on a night that was all Drake.
The highlight of the game came with 3:22 left in the first half. With the Bulldogs up 27-15, Phelps called a time out to draw up a set play to exploit Bradley’s zone defense. Drake executed a solid back screen to free up Rice, and Simons fed him a perfect lob. Rice slammed the alley-oop, and the Bulldog fans at the Scottrade Center erupted.
“I thought Rayvonte (Rice) did a really good job of getting in the paint,” Phelps said. “He fills the stat sheet. When he’s at his best, he is getting in the paint. We need him to use his physicality and explosiveness in the paint.”
Last season, the Braves eliminated Drake 63-48 in the same play-in game (Bradley as the No. 10 seed, Drake as the No. 7 seed). The Bulldogs got revenge this season.
Creighton 68, Drake 61
In an evenly matched game, there was one major difference between Drake and No. 24 Creighton last Friday night: The Bluejays had Doug McDermott, and the Bulldogs didn’t.
The 2012 Larry Bird Player of the Year had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Creighton survived a late Drake run to earn a 68-61 win in the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championship quarterfinals in St. Louis.
“We happened to play one of the top 25 teams in the country (Friday night),” Phelps said. “But I thought we gave them a good game.”
For the second night in a row, Drake got off to a fast start. The Bulldogs scored the game’s first nine points and jumped out to a 12-2 lead.
Creighton responded and eventually tied the game at 16 with 12:20 left in the first half. The contest then became a back-and-forth affair. Antoine Young’s runner in the lane over Clarke gave the Bluejays a 35-34 lead at the break.
McDermott, who had 17 points in the second half, outscored the entire Drake team during the first 12:41 of the second half. He had 10 points during that stretch while the Bulldogs only scored eight.
With 3:56 remaining, Creighton led 61-50. Drake did not go down without a fight.
Rice and senior Kurt Alexander led Drake on a spirited comeback to pull the Bulldogs within 63-60 with 1:24 left. A McDermott put-back bucket on a Creighton misfire from beyond the arc put the Bluejays back up five.
The Bulldogs ran out of gas, and Creighton closed out the victory.
“It was a real battle and a very even game throughout,” Phelps said. “For us, the scoring drought in the second half became a situation that was tough to overcome.”
Rice had 15 points while Alexander added 14. Simons had 11 points, and he made the only Drake 3-point shot on the night. The team was 1-of-15 from beyond the arc.
Clarke had 11 points and 11 rebounds for Drake. He was one of the reasons that the Bulldogs had a 34-30 advantage in the paint on a night that McDermott was nearly unstoppable.
“He (Clarke) did everything he possibly could to set the tone, set the example for our guys,” Phelps said.
Drake finished the season at 17-15. The Bulldogs will likely receive an invitation to play in the postseason College Basketball Invitational.
“We can walk out with our heads held high knowing that we left it all out on the court,” Clarke said.