Story by Taylor Soule
Photo by Joel Venzke
A painfully familiar pattern unfolded in Evansville, Ind., on Sunday night. Again, Drake men’s basketball had chances to deliver down the stretch. Again, though, Drake men’s basketball struggled as time ticked away, adding another Missouri Valley Conference loss to the Bulldogs’ 2012-13 ledger.
A vengeful Evansville squad topped Drake 84-78 in overtime at the Ford Center, dropping the Bulldogs to 11-13 overall and 5-8 in Valley competition.
The MVC foes traded momentum throughout regulation. When the buzzer sounded at 66 points apiece, though, Evansville answered at the charity stripe while Drake stalled offensively. Senior Colt Ryan drained 10-of-10 free throws in overtime to doom Drake.
After suffering a second straight MVC loss, senior forward Ben Simons cited the brief but dooming lapses in Drake’s game.
“We have played really hard most of the time, and there’s just a few pockets here and there where we had to get one stop or one basket, and we haven’t done that these past couple games,” Simons said.
The opening plays of Sunday’s game forecasted a back-and-forth affair defined by 16 lead changes. Ryan evened the score at 11 apiece with 13:14 left to play in the first half. Two plays later, Ryan again tied the score at 13 apiece with a jumper.
Drake managed a 35-26 halftime advantage thanks to a pair of late layups by redshirt junior center Seth VanDeest.
Evansville opened the second half with a 7-0 run until senior forward Ben Simons nailed a jumper layup with 16:26 left in regulation to take a 37-35 Drake advantage. The Bulldogs’ two-possession lead vanished a play later, though, as Ryan drained a layup to close within two at 37-35. Ryan then drained a 3-pointer, giving Evansville a 38-37 lead.
Neither team won control as the half ticked away. Drake owned regulation’s last chance as junior forward Richard Carter tried a jumper with 00:02 left on the clock. Carter’s shot missed to force overtime.
The duo of Ryan and Cox controlled the extra period, scoring a combined 13 points in overtime. Ryan finished with a staggering 33 points. Cox contributed 21 points.
Four Bulldogs reached double figures in scoring, led by Simons’ 27 points. Carter finished with 13 points. Clarke registered a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds. VanDeest added 11 points.
As the March 7-10 MVC Championship approaches, the Bulldogs will channel the season’s highs.
“We know we can win any game,” Simons said. “We beat Creighton here. We beat Indiana State. We beat the first-place teams in the league, so we know we can beat anybody. We just have to go out there and play our game.”
With the MVC faithful focused on powerhouses Creighton, Wichita State and Indiana State as the postseason nears, Clarke expects Drake to surprise in March.
“It just takes the pressure off us, really,” Clarke said. “We can just go out there and play basketball. We expect great things out of ourselves, but nobody else really does, and we know that, so it allows us to play loose. We have nothing to lose. All of the pressure is on them, so it just takes the pressure off us.”
Drake will take on in-state rival Northern Iowa at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday at the Knapp Center. The Bulldogs faced Wichita State on Wednesday night in Wichita, Kan. Results from that game will be available in the next issue of The Times-Delphic.
As Drake awaits in-state rival UNI, a single goal guides every Bulldog pass, every basket, every dribble.
“Finishing,” Clarke said. “Everything we do is about finishing.”