The Drake men’s basketball team earned a big non-conference road win over Nevada on Friday night on the strength of five players scoring in double figures, toppling the Wolf Pack (4-3) 76-66 in a match corresponding to the Mountain West Conference/Missouri Valley Conference Challenge.
Junior Richard Carter led the Bulldogs (3-3) with 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and just one turnover, shooting 6-of-12 from the field to lead a Drake offense that shot 44.6 percent from the field and went 9-of-20 from three-point range.
After earning a 45-39 lead at the break, the Bulldogs held the Wolf Pack to 27 points and just 30.8 percent from the field in the second half to seal their first road win of the season (the Bulldogs’ win over Rice was on a neutral court).
“I thought (the) guys played together. I thought they played extremely hard and especially in the second half, our defense tightened up,” said head coach Mark Phelps in a Drake athletics press release. “We talked about our experiences from previous games outside of the Knapp Center and how those games went. These guys, to a man, were determined not to let that happen again, and to play to win all the way to the end of the game. Defensively, that’s where it happened.”
In the first half, senior Ben Simons and redshirt sophomore Jeremy Jeffers did all of their scoring for the game, leading Drake with 11 points apiece. The duo combined to go 6-of-6 from three-point range in the first half, with both making three 3-pointers each to build a 6-point lead.
Jeffers, who started 26 games and averaged 7.0 points per game for Drake last season, came into the game having scored a combined seven points in the Bulldogs’ first five games but broke out with 11 points and five rebounds.
“I thought it was certainly a team effort. We have enough players on our team that when someone is not playing particularly well, there are others guys that can step up,” Phelps said. “Let’s not forget who Jeremy Jeffers is. He started a lot of games last year, he led our team in three-point field goal percentage. We saw it tonight.”
Drake out-rebounded Nevada 36-30 and pounded the Wolf Pack inside in the second half, scoring 14 out of their 31 second half points in the paint. Redshirt junior Seth VanDeest finished with 14 points and two rebounds, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the paint.
“Seth did a great job. Obviously he’s a guy that can score in the low post. He’s continued to get better,” Phelps said. “We need to get him more touches, he only had seven shots. But again, because of his unselfishness, when they come in to double-team, he’s finding teammates.”
The Bulldogs controlled the game in the second half thanks to their defense and rebounding. Drake led by as many as 15 with 4:44 left to play. Drake’s lead shrunk to single-digits just once the rest of the way.
Phelps talked about the importance of everyone contributing in the rebounding battle.
“Obviously we know about Jordan (Clarke), but everyone else has to chip in and Richard (Carter) took that message to heart. He got seven rebounds on the defensive end, all in the defensive end, and was huge in helping us win the rebounding battle,” Phelps said.
Redshirt senior Jordan Clarke continued his impressive play, finishing with 15 points and six rebounds. After averaging a career-high in points (6.0) and rebounds (7.0) per game last season, Clarke is currently averaging 12.8 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game.
After a five-game stretch away from home, the Bulldogs will return to the Knapp Center to take on St. Mary’s (5-2) on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Like Drake, St. Mary’s participated in the DirecTV Classic over Thanksgiving break and finished with a 1-2 record.
The Gaels finished 27-6 last season, winning the West Coast Conference for the second time in three years and earning an NCAA tournament bid. St. Mary’s, who earned a seven seed in the tournament, lost to Purdue in its first match, 72-69.