By Austin Cannon
The Drake women playing Missouri State wasn’t Sunday’s “big game,” but it was reasonable to expect a competitive contest between the two teams tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Instead, the Knapp Center crowd watched the Bulldogs take over in the second quarter on their way to a 95-72 victory and the lone spot on top of the MVC standings.
“You can take the score out of it, and I still think we’re playing really well,” Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk said.
Drake (16-6) led by five after the first quarter, but the Bears got to within 27-24 after a layup from Tyonna Snow with 6:43 remaining in the first half. That, however, would be their only field goal for the next six minutes.
The Bears’ shots wouldn’t fall, and Drake took advantage. The Bulldogs scored 13 unanswered points, nine on 3-pointers, to take a 40-24 lead with 3:43 left in the half. Liz Fruendt made a pair of free throws for the Bears, but Drake answered right back with a Paige Greiner 3-pointer and Sara Rhine’s and-one layup. Rhine’s free throw gave Drake a 46-26 lead.
Lizzy Wendell made a pair of free throws to push the Bulldog lead to 48-26 with 1:43 to go. Kenzie Williams hit two free throws to end Drake’s 21-2 run with a little more than a minute left, but the hole was too deep for the Bears to climb out.
The Bulldogs went into the locker room up 51-33 after shooting 68 percent from the floor. The Bulldogs shot even better from behind the arc at 70 percent (7 of 10). With that lights-out shooting, Drake’s 11 first-half turnovers had much less of an effect.
Another driving force in the big second quarter was Caitlin Ingle. The junior, who finished with a double-double on 16 points and 10 assists, sparked Drake’s run after Snow’s layup.
She first dumped the ball the Greiner, whose rafter-scraping 3-pointer dropped in with 6:43 left in the half. On the next possession, Ingle got to the rim through traffic and finished the layup to give Drake a 32-24 lead.
That series encapsulated Ingle’s afternoon. The point guard from Runnels, Iowa, drove and dished all game, finding her open teammates on the block, behind the arc or in transition, where she hit Wendell for her final assist in the fourth quarter. In this weekend’s two games, Ingle’s recorded an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5-1 (20 assists to four turnovers).
“I think anyone in the country would take that ratio,” Baranczyk said.
On Sunday, she spent much of her time in the paint, exploiting the middle of the Bears’ defense.
“They played that zone, and the middle was pretty open, so just attacking the middle was a big thing,” Ingle said.
The Bears couldn’t counter the Ingle-led Drake offense. After beating Northern Iowa in overtime on Friday, the Bears had a difficult time getting shots to fall. MSU shot only 36 percent from the field and 20 percent from three-point land.
“They’re a good team,” Baranczyk said. “Were they on their ‘A game’ today? I don’t know, probably not. I’ve seen them play really well, too. I think we had ‘A’ moments; I don’t think we had four quarters of a consistent ‘A game’ either, but I like where we’re heading.”
Part of that inconsistency was rebounding. MSU didn’t shoot well, but the Bears were able to take more shots after pulling down offensive rebounds. In all, MSU collected 19 rebounds that turned into 19 second-chance points.
MSU held a small advantage in that regard, but the Bears could never close the gap. The closest they came in the second half was after a Lee Ann Polowy 3–pointer brought the Bears within 80-66.
“We knew they would make runs, and we were going to just continue to attack no matter what the score was,” said Wendell, who finished with a game-high 23 points.
It was a banner weekend for Drake, who swept the season series with both Wichita State and MSU for the first time since 2009. The Bulldogs also snapped the Bears’ streak at 10 straight road victories in MVC play.
To stay in first, the Bulldogs will have to keep playing well on the road, where they are undefeated in conference play. The back half of the schedule is road-heavy with five games away from the Knapp Center, starting with games at Illinois State and Indiana State this coming weekend.
But after beating the co-first-place team in The Valley by 23, Drake looks well-prepared for the road ahead.
“This is where I expect us to be,” Ingle said.