ONLINE EXCLUSIVE ARTICLE BY ADAM ROGAN
The Drake Bulldogs (6-16, 1-9 MVC) snapped their nine-game skid and picked up their first win since Dec. 22 with an 80-70 home victory over the Bradley Braves (3-20, 1-9 MVC) in a bottom of the conference matchup. The win was Drake’s first in the Missouri Valley Conference this season and ended a losing streak that began on Dec. 31.
“It felt like our day as a team,” redshirt junior Kale Abrahamson said. “At times it looked like we might let it slip as we have in the past, but we didn’t let it happen.”
Drake’s Graham Woodward sunk his first two three point attempts to help the Bulldogs get out ahead 16-10 in the early going.
Despite Drake’s strong start, Bradley’s young squad – featuring 10 freshmen, four of whom were starters – began finding holes in the Bulldogs’ 2-3 zone. Sometimes they simply shot over it, knocking down four threes in the half, to take an 18-17 lead with just under eight minutes left until halftime.
The Bulldogs would adjust, switching between zone and man defenses in an attempt to deter the Braves’ above average shooting, as Bradley would finish the first half with a field goal percentage above 50 percent.
“We knew we were going to hold them to fewer points in the second half,” Reed Timmer said after the game.
Although Bradley ended up scoring 35 points in each half, their field goal percentage was considerably worse in the second – 33 percent as compared to 51 percent.
Despite Bradley’s strong shooting – led by Antoine Pittman’s 17 points – Drake managed to take the lead at the end of the half thanks to a 9-0 run, capped by a buzzer-beater putback from freshman forward Billy Wampler put the Bulldogs ahead 38-35 heading into the locker room.
Scoring in the first half was heavily reliant on shooting from the free throw line. Both teams had already entered the bonus by the 8-minute mark. The Bulldogs managed to score 10 points from the stripe in the first 20 minutes of play, twice as many as Bradley’s five, lending to their halftime advantage.
The second half would prove no different, with Bradley racking up six fouls in the first seven minutes and Drake was already in the bonus by the eighth. The plethora of foul shots gave the Bulldogs the opportunity to pull away. Drake would outscore Bradley by 15 from the line, 27-12.
A 15-1 run midway through the second half gave Drake a decisive 16-point, 65-49 lead. The Braves responded with an 8-1 run of their own that brought reduced the deficit to single digits, but Woodward’s fourth three of the game ended the streak, helping his team surge in the game’s final minutes.
Bradley started intentionally fouling as the clock wound down and Drake sunk seven of their final 10 free throws to seal the deal. 11 of Reed Timmer’s 19 points came from the charity stripe. However, Timmer didn’t lead the Bulldogs in scoring, as he had in five of the last six games. That honor would go to Woodward who finished with 23 points, tying his career high.
“I thought (Woodward) did a great job of taking shots on his terms,” head coach Ray Giacoletti said of his sophomore guard. “Tonight was probably his best game of being a distributor and taking scoring upon himself when the opportunity was there.”
Not only did Woodward have the confidence to take those shots, but he also made them at a high rate. He shot seven of 11 from the field and drained four of five three-pointers.
Kale Abrahamson contributed 13 points despite struggling from beyond the arc, only connecting on one of his five attempts.
Freshman 7-footer Dominik Olejniczak led the Bulldog bench with eight. Also off the bench, Ore Arogundade scored six points and pulled down a game-high and career-high nine rebounds.
The final total of 80 points is third most the Bulldogs have scored this season in 40 minutes of play and their most since their last win on Dec. 22. (They scored 81 in an overtime win against Western Kentucky on Nov. 23.)
“We had kind of forgotten what (winning) feels like,” Abrahamson said.
The Bulldogs will look to keep those memories of victory fresh on Tuesday as they travel to Terra Haute to take on Indiana State. The last time the two teams met was on Jan. 6 at the Knapp Center when Indiana State came out on top, 69-79.
“I don’t know if today can be measured,” Giacoletti said. “It was important for our team our program to figure out how to get a win today. … Let’s get a streak going in the other direction now.”