STORY BY MIKE WENDLANDT
Thanksgiving was not all that Drake hoped for as it fell in all three games of the Challenge in Music City over the holiday weekend in Nashville, Tennessee.
Despite a strong effort from senior guard Gary Ricks Jr., who was named to the all-tournament team, Drake was unable to prevail, falling to 1-6 on the young season.
“Gary’s done a good job being efficient in the offense while staying strong in the little things,” said Drake head coach Ray Giacoletti.
Drake’s draw was a tough one as far as the tournament went, playing the top two teams on back-to-back days. The Bulldogs hung with both teams, though, before a dry stretch allowed the opponents to pull away all three contests.
In the first game on Friday, it was Valparaiso that handed Drake the loss. Despite an ice-cold Crusader start due to some tight Bulldog defense, shooting 1-11 from three-point range in the first half, Valpo was able to take a 29-21 lead into the dressing room at half.
Senior Jordan Daniels led both teams with 10 points in the first 20 minutes.
In the second half, it was all Valpo, who started off with an 18-5 run and effectively ended Drake’s hopes for victory. The Bulldogs eventually fell, 66-46.
Daniels finished with 18 points, while Ricks added eight of his own.
“Valparaiso is a very good team,” Giacoletti said. “They’re doing things that NBA teams do and very few college teams are capable of. You’ll hear great things about them all year from other teams.”
The next night, it was Portland who took the floor with Drake in Nashville. While Ricks had an exceptional game, scoring 23 points, it was too little too late for the Bulldogs as Drake couldn’t recover from an early first-half deficit.
The 71-59 final score was closer than play indicated, as Drake actually outscored Portland in the second half. But it was a couple of early runs that hurt the Bulldogs in the first half.
Ricks’ 23 points were a season high, as well as his career-high five three-pointers paced the team. Daniels poured in 12 points of his own.
It was a team struggle in rebounding, only grabbing 20 boards in the game, compared to 32 for Portland.
“They punched us in the face early, and while we came back in the second half, the damage was done,” Giacoletti said. “We just haven’t been able to sustain a game for 40 full minutes yet.”
The final game for the Bulldogs was a roller coaster affair against Murray State on Sunday. The lead changed 19 different times before the Racers pulled away late to win, 68-59.
Ricks paced Drake again with 17 points, giving him an average of 16 per game on the weekend.
Senior forward Chris Caird also contributed 16 points on six-of-nine shooting on the afternoon.
Drake was solid on the offensive end against the Racers, shooting an even 50 percent from the field for the game, while holding Murray State to only 42 percent.
However, like the night before against Portland, it was rebounding effort that hurt the Bulldogs. Twelve offensive rebounds gave the Racers a significant advantage in second-chance opportunities.
Turnovers plagued Drake as well, as a stretch of three consecutive empty possessions led to Murray State taking an 11-point lead late in the game.
“We did some pretty good things, but you can’t give up a lot of offensive rebounds or turn the ball over. It’s amazing that we were able to stay in it despite those things,” Giacoletti said.