By DRAKE LOHSE
The last time the Drake men’s basketball team won the MVC Title, Britney Spears was beating on the side of a Ford Explorer with an umbrella. That was 2008.
Drake clinched top seat in the Missouri Valley with a 73-62 win over Missouri State Saturday night. The Bulldogs have been locked in combat for the number one MVC spot for weeks, duking it out with Loyola and Missouri State.
Drake put themselves in prime position for MVC Champs with a ferocious four game win streak:UNI, Valpo, Southern Illinois, and Bradley all fell to the Bulldogs over a ten day stretch. Illinois State snuck by Drake for the second time this year, a week after the Bulldogs had claimed sole possession of the MVC #1. Drake found itself on shaky Missouri Valley ground.
The team needed Feb. 27 matchup with Indiana State in Des Moines. Drake entered Wednesday’s game in a three way tie for the MVC lead once again. Their opportunity to break that tie, and find themselves atop the conference, came at home. Their matchup came Wednesday night, against the former home of Larry Bird, the Indiana State Sycamores.
Before the tip, Drake honored their seniors.
Students and fans came together to send their fans off right. In his final home game, senior Nick McGlynn got off to a humble beginning. All season long, teams have come to the Knapp Center, trying to provide one defensive look after another, all in the name of somehow matching the offensive prowess of the 6’8”, Nick McGlynn.
With the combination of 6’9” Bronson Kessinger, and 6’9”, Emondre Rickman, the Sycamores all but shut down Nick McGlynn in the opening minutes of the first half. McGlynn showed up when the Bulldogs needed him most. Midway through the first half, with the Bulldogs clinging to a four-point lead, a Noah Thomas steal gave way to a messy Bulldog fastbreak—one that ended with a D.J. Wilkins assist to McGlynn. McGlynn powered over Rickman for a powerful slam, and the Bulldog crowd erupted with thunderous approval.
On the ensuing Indiana State possession, Garrett Sturtz took his trademark charge and halted all Sycamore momentum. Sturtz hit a fade away at the buzzer, and the Bulldogs walked off with a 36-32 halftime advantage.
Indiana State shot only 35.3 percent from the field, and failed to keep any energy alive for long. Drake cruised to a 80-68 victory, and improved their February home record to a perfect 4-0.
“You try to treat it as if it’s (senior night) any other game,” Nick McGlynn said. “You try to keep your emotions in check, try to focus on the task at hand. But it was really special, Drake’s really special to me, and being able to get a win, in front of a good home crowd, against a good team, that’s what it’s all about. I couldn’t be happy with how my time ended here at the Knapp Center.”
Drake defeated Indiana State for the second time this season. The team shot an even 50percentfrom the field, and Brady Ellingson’s three-point performance (4-8) yielded him 16 points. Anthony Murphy contributed 13 points, breaking his career best by a single point.
The stage was set for an MVC showdown in Springfield. The Missouri State-Drake action commenced Saturday night. The Bulldogs got off to a hot start on a 7-0 run. A D.J. Wilkins three stretched that lead to 11, with seven minutes remaining in the opening half. But an 11-3 Missouri State surge helped the Bears take a 34-33 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs kicked off the second half with an 8-0 spurt, that the Bears never recovered from. McGlynn hit six straight points in the opening minutes to give Drake a 5-point lead. With nine minutes remaining, the Bulldogs had themselves a nine-point cushion. Missouri State threatened with a pair of field goals, but a staunch Drake defensive held them to nothing more. A pair of perimeter daggers from Anthony Murphy and Brady Ellingson helped beat the Bears in the closing minutes. Missouri State pulled their seniors, and reality dawned on the Bulldogs. They were MVC Champs.
“We are where we are because of the guys in that locker room and their unselfishness and ability to believe in one another and stay committed to their goals,” DeVries said. “These guys have been special all year and as a first-year head coach I’m blessed to have them.”
Nick McGlynn turned in a 22-point, 13 rebound performance, and first-year Garrett Sturtz continued his season of efficiency, hitting 3-for-4 in just under 12 minutes.
The Bulldogs begin the MVC Tournament Friday, March 8, in St. Louis. Drake awaits the winner of the Thursday Evansville/Illinois State matchup. They enter as the two seed, and share the conference title with Loyola, who posted a 12-6 conference record. Illinois State has been a thorn in the side of the Bulldogs all season. Drake is 0-2 against the Red Birds. Both losses to Illinois State have spoiled four game win streaks.
The Bulldogs last squared off against Evansville in late January. Drake avenged their loss to the Purple Aces with a 78-66 victory. But in the meantime, Drake gets to float in the feeling of being conference champions.
“It’s a good feeling,” McGlynn said. “It’s a feeling that we’ve been prepared for. We out ourselves in a good positions, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m ready to get back to practice and get back to work.”
Early Monday afternoon Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Communications Ty Patton sent out an email stating that Drake’s first-year guard D.J. Wilkins will miss the remainder of the men’s basketball season due to a broken bone in his left ankle. Patton’s email included some of the details and highlights of Wilkins season to this point.
“Wilkins suffered the injury with nine minutes remaining in Saturday’s 73-62 win at Missouri State to clinch a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for the Bulldogs. The Merrillville, Ind., native led the Bulldogs in minutes played and assists this season while averaging 11.1 points per game as one of the top freshmen in the MVC. The Bulldogs enter this week’s MVC Tournament as the No. 2 seed and will face either No. 7 Illinois State or No. 10 Evansville Friday night at 6 p.m. in St. Louis.”