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Bulldogs make statement over Boise State

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BY DRAKE LOHSE

 

Let’s go backwards. That starts in Minnesota. On the first day of the Christmas month, the Bulldogs traveled north, faring nefarious conditions, to face off against the North Dakota State Bison, in the inaugural game of the U.S. Bank Stadium Classic.

Led by a historic triple double from senior point guard Nick Norton (18 points, 17 assists, 13 rebounds) the Bulldogs seemed unable to suffer from the shooting woes that have plagued them for the previous couple of games. As a team, Drake shot 56.1 percent from the field, and 52.2 percent from the three point line. Senior Nick McGlynn and transfer D.J. Wilkins did their part, putting up 23 points and 15 points with 5 assists, respectively.

“We try to play fast, get up and down and I did the easy part tonight,” Norton said. “They got the box outs, I just grabbed the loose balls, fed them the ball and they were able to make shots.”

Norton’s triple double is the first Drake triple-double since 1989, and the highest assists (17) in a triple-double in the entire NCAA since 2010.

The results of the 95-88 win over North Dakota State was a performance by a team that was fresh, confident, and light on its heels. And although Coach DeVries is always preaching “one game at a time” it’s hard to imagine that the Bulldogs didn’t add a spring to their step after the win over Boise State.

Certainly one of the biggest names that has appeared on the Drake Men’s Basketball schedule in the last couple of years, Tuesday night’s matchup against the Broncos seemed to be coming at just the right time. With two consecutive, crunch time wins under their belt, and the hype surrounding the dream-team and new leadership in their heads, inviting the Broncos to the Knapp Center Tuesday night seemed to be the ultimate “prove-it” game.

The Bulldogs were eager to establish control from the very beginning. Control of the pace, the flow, the boards, and the energy. With inconsistent shooting performances over the previous two wins, Drake knew one of the keys to winning Tuesday would be to outmuscle a physical Broncos team down low.

The first half did nothing to establish an edge for either team. Though Drake entered the locker room at the halftime buzzer with 42-32 ten point advantage, that was not a clear indicator of the back and forth struggle enveloped the first half. Each and every time the Bulldogs began a run to separate themselves, a Boise State slam or steal cut it short.

Finally, late in the first half, Brady Ellingson nailed a deep three, giving the Bulldogs a well-earned three point lead. Though the Broncos were able to answer on the next possession, it was Tramell Murphy alley-oop slam off an inbounds pass that solidified a ten point Drake lead heading into the locker room.

The first half was nothing but a highlight reel of put-back slams and passionate blocks into the bleachers. With each team putting up a rigid defensive front (both teams had 3 steals at the half) the Bulldogs needed to remain in control of the pace in the second half, as well as find a way to shut down the hot-handed Boise State guard Justinian Jessup, who ended the game with 21 points—12 from beyond the arch.

The Bulldogs needed someone to step up to make the gritty plays down low in the second half, in order to take coveted second chance opportunities away from the Broncos. And who better than Nick McGlynn, the senior who’s one of three players on the roster who saw action in a Drake uniform last season.

With both teams grappling back and forth for the lead, Drake was able to maintain the edge, in part a result of ten team blocks. Four of those blocks came from McGlynn. Mid-way through the second half, the old guard shouldered an earned-bucket down low, and on the resulting Boise possession denied a similar shot from Bronco guard R.J. Williams. On the fast break back down, the senior forced his way down low and put up the And-1. The crowd was roaring.

McGlynn converted on the resulting free throw. His 7-9 performance from the line came in handy as the clock wound down, and the Bulldogs were able to collect defensive rebounds until the final buzzer rang on the Bulldogs convincing 83-74 victory over Boise State.

“Nobody will out heart him,” first-year Drake head coach Darian DeVries said. “That guy brings us everything he has. From an energy standpoint, from an emotional standpoint, from a physical standpoint. I think you see teams get worn down as the night goes on from dealing with him every possession because he’s so relentless.”

The Bulldogs head to Wisconsin Thursday night the square off against the University of Milwaukee. They’ll need to build off their experience against Boise quick, as they face Iowa State in the Hy-Vee Classic on the 15th.

“What I love about our team right now is that we’re just an open book. And it’s a book that’s never been read by anybody,” DeVries said. “No one knows what to expect from tomorrow. We’re just working on a predictable ending right now.”

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