Everything was clicking for the Drake Bulldogs. Going into Sunday they had won five straight games by an average 22.6 points and occupied the top spot in the Missouri Valley. But that all screeched to a halt Sunday at Indiana State.
Drake shot 30.9 percent from the field while the Sycamores made 10 3-pointers on the way to their 68-53 victory. The loss dropped Drake back into a three- way tie with Northern Iowa and Missouri State for first place in the MVC at 10-3.
Sunday’s clunker was the Bulldogs’ lowest offensive output of the season, and it came only 48 hours after one of Drake’s most dominating games of the season, a 98-58 shellacking of Illinois State.
“It was a lot of contrast,” Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk said of the two games.
The numbers back it up. Against the Redbirds, each Drake player made at least one 3-pointer and they shot nearly 47 percent from behind the arc. On Sunday, they made only 3 of 20 threes.
On Friday, the Bulldogs assisted on 26 of 38 baskets. Sunday: only eight assists on 17 field goals.
Despite scoring 23 points in the first half, a number they sometimes eclipse in one quarter of play, the Bulldogs went into halftime only down five. But an 11-2 Sycamore run right after halftime put the Bulldogs too far behind. Drake clawed back to within single digits twice, but Indiana State would re-extend its lead and had Drake its first conference road loss of the season.
Baranczyk attributed Drake’s frigid shooting to both Indiana State’s defense and shots simply not falling. She called the offense “out of character.”
“I don’t know if we ever got in our flow,” she said.
Even though it was a double- digit loss to a mediocre team, Baranczyk said she wasn’t worried. So far in the MVC season, she hasn’t needed to worry. After their previous two conference losses, the Bulldogs responded by winning five games in a row.
“Every time we’ve lost, we’ve learned a lesson,” Baranczyk said. Along with individual development from both the coaches and players, Baranczyk said she wanted to avoid the “total snowball” effect, when one thing going wrong leads to nearly everything going wrong.
After a day off Monday, Tuesday’s practice was the first chance for the Bulldogs to recover from their unexpected loss. A visit to UNI awaits on Friday night, but first the Bulldogs will have to focus on themselves.
“We can’t focus on Friday,” Baranczyk said. “We’re not ready for that point.”
They will have to get ready in a hurry. The game on Friday will drop the loser into second place in the MVC. The Panthers won the first meeting 79-73 on Jan. 24 at the Knapp Center, holding off a late charge by the Bulldogs with a pair of Amber Sorenson buckets.
Cedar Falls will not only host two of the Valley’s best teams, but two of its best scorers as well. Scoring 17.3 points per game, UNI’s Madison Weekly ranks second in the MVC in scoring. Ahead of her is Drake’s Lizzy Wendell who averages 20.5 points per game. She’s scored more than 20 in four of the past six games, including 26 against Illinois State on Friday night.
The matchup will have an effect on the seeding for the postseason MVC tournament in March. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the top overall seed while the losing team will have to use the season’s final four games to try and reclaim ground.
After UNI, Drake will host Loyola and Bradley at home before the season-ending road trip to Evansville and Southern Illinois. With three teams currently sharing first place, even one loss could prove fatal to Drake’s title hopes.
But with three weeks left, Baranczyk’s focus is inward to try and limit the Indiana State debacle to a one-time occurrence.
“We’re focused on us right now.”