A pair of losses last week dropped the last place Drake Men’s Basketball team to 1-15 against the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Bulldogs went up against the Evansville Purple Aces on Feb. 17 in the Knapp Center, looking to break their cold streak. Unfortunately, after a tough battle, they were unable to deliver against Evansville and lost 80-74, taking the Bulldogs to their fifth consecutive loss.
During the first half, the Bulldogs were able to chip away at a double-digit deficit that Evansville gained early on and close the half within four points. Offensively, they were able to find a rhythm that seemed to be lost as of late.
Drake has scored more than 70 points only four times in 2016, and this game was the first since Jan. 30’s win against Bradley.
The Bulldogs shot 46 percent in the first half, converting on 13 of 28 attempts, while Evansville converted on 14 out of 28, putting them at an even 50 percent. And numbers don’t lie—this game was close.
Entering the second half, it seemed like the Bulldogs left their rhythm in the locker room. Evansville came out and went on a 10-0 run that completely shifted the momentum. But the Bulldogs persevered and continued to do what they could defensively to stay in the game when their offense kicked back into gear.
“We fought with a lot of grit,” said Ray Giacoletti, Drake Men’s Basketball’s head coach. “The kind of grit that it takes to win basketball games, which is a good sign.”
The Bulldogs began chipping away at a 16-point deficit with seven minutes left in the game behind a 3-point percentage of 50 and shooting 53 percent overall in the second half.
An exchange of 3-pointers from both teams with just over a minute left in the game left the difference at five. Evansville’s Jaylon Brown sunk one free throw and Drake guard Reed Timmer responded with two free throws of his own to close the gap to three.
But it wasn’t enough.
The Purple Aces converted from the charity stripe on their last four attempts to secure the 80-74 victory.
Despite the fifth consecutive loss, the Bulldogs are clearly working hard to correct some things on both ends of the court, now with only two games left in the season. Olejniczak had four points, five rebounds and two blocks. Although he fell into some foul trouble – committing four fouls in the game – he was still an undeniable presence for the Bulldogs’ defense.
Freshman forward Nick McGlynn came off the bench for the Bulldogs and contributed five points, six rebounds and two blocks.
“McGlynn gave us some amazing minutes, and something we are working on is extending those minutes,” Giacoletti said.
The heavy emphasis for the Bulldogs, who have 10 freshmen and sophomores, is extending the worthwhile minutes that they bring to the game, part of why McGlynn played a season-high 18 minutes and Olejniczak has started five straight games.
“The guys fought hard tonight. I can’t be happy enough about that,” Giacoletti said. “We just need to extend those good minutes.”
The Bulldogs traveled to Peoria, Illinois, three days later for a rematch with the only team they’ve beaten in the MVC this season: the Bradley Braves.
The Bulldogs were unable to shake their cold streak on the road. They are still winless in away games this season.
Three days later Drake faced the Bradley Braves, who handed the Bulldogs their sixth consecutive loss.
The final blow came with 23 seconds left. A 3-pointer by Bradley’s Donte Thomas, his only three of the game — putting the Braves up 71-68 — free throws for both teams in the game’sfinal seconds brought the final score to 73-70.
At halftime, the Bulldogs had a nine point lead, 41-32, behind 57 percent shooting from the field and 71 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Kale Abrahamson led the way with 14 and Timmer added 12 in the first 20 minutes. But they weren’t able to keep it up down the stretch.
Coming into the second the Bulldogs were able to play some good defense and maintain the lead. Until the final seven minutes.
The Braves went on a 13-2 run that put them up by two, 65-63, with three minutes remaining. Drake was able to tie the game twice in the next two minutes, but fell to the final 3-pointer by Thomas and an inability to convert from the field during crunch time.
Timmer finished 20 points, converting on seven of his twelve field goal attempts, and finished 7¬for-9 from the charity stripe. Abrahamson had a stellar game, putting up 21 points – the most points he’s scored since Dec. 22 – by converting on seven of twelve from the field and shooting 50 percent from the arc.
The Bulldogs finished at 53 percent from the field overall and 55 percent from the arc. However, despite Casey Schlatter snagging seven rebounds and McGlynn added another five, there was still an eight rebound deficit, ultimately creating more possession time for Bradley.
Bradley finished the game shooting at 48 percent, compared to Drake’s 53, but was able to convert where it counted, scoring 10 of their final 11 possessions. This, combined with superior rebounding and the final 3-point shot by Thomas allowed Bradley to squeeze into the lead in the game’s final seconds, the only time that really matters.
The Bulldogs have two games left this regular season. They’ll play their final road game tonight at Missouri State before returning to the Knapp Center where they will host Loyola on Saturday afternoon for Senior Day, the Bulldog seniors final game on the Knapp Center court. Tipoff for that game is set for 1 p.m.