After defeating Southern Illinois University (SIU) in the semifinals of the Arch Madness tournament, Garrett Sturtz held up one finger to the fans. One more win was all they needed to be crowned champions of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The Bulldogs completed this mission and crushed the Bradley Braves 77-51 in the championship, bringing home the first Drake men’s basketball MVC championship since 2008.
Winning Arch Madness punched Drake’s ticket to the March Madness tournament, in which the national champion of NCAA Division one college basketball is decided. Drake also secured victories against Murray State and SIU en route to the championship.
Long-time Drake starters Roman Penn, D.J. Wilkins and Sturtz, all in their final season with Drake, were all key players in the team’s run for an Arch Madness championship this season. Outstanding play from Tucker Devries, the MVC Player of the Year, also catapulted the Bulldogs to the top of the pack in the valley.
After securing a first-round bye, Drake faced off against the Murray State Racers on March 3, in which they secured a 74-62 victory. The Racers were the seventh seed coming into the tournament, sporting a 17-15 record on the season.
Drake struggled throughout the first half and into the beginning of the second half of the game, allowing Murray State to remain competitive. Drake entered halftime with a narrow two-point lead, aided by a Murray State shooting foul on a miracle heave from Devries that allowed Drake to tack on three points before heading into the half.
The Bulldogs found their rhythm in the second half and took control of the game. Drake was led by Devries and Penn, who together, accounted for 43 of Drake’s points. Devries led Drake with 27 points, shooting 3/6 on three-point shots. Penn continued his stellar play, scoring 16 points and dishing out 10 assists to complete the double-double.
Continuing their success, the Bulldogs defeated the SIU Salukis 65-52 in the semi-finals on Saturday.
SIU knocked off Missouri State in the previous round, a team that swept Drake in the regular season. Drake split with SIU in the 2022-2023 season, with Drake winning at home and losing on the road.
After going down 9-0 to begin the Arch Madness game against SIU, Drake went on a 30-6 run, reminiscent of their 16-0 run they put together in the final regular season game against SIU.
Drake went into halftime with a commanding 39-23 lead. This lead, however, quickly withered away at the beginning of the second half. Drake turnovers and missed shots coupled with quick baskets from SIU diminished the Bulldog lead to three points with 14 minutes remaining.
Drake showed resilience and stole momentum back from SIU, bringing their lead back to 10 points in under two minutes.
Ferocious defense from the Bulldogs held SIU forward Marcus Domask to seven points. Domask was named to the First Team All-MVC in 2023 and he averaged 17 points per game.
Penn and Darnell Brodie were integral to the Bulldogs’ success in the victory against SIU. Penn led the Bulldogs with 16 points and five assists. Brodie grabbed 17 rebounds and scored 10 points to finish with a double-double. Brodie also played phenomenal defense as he finished the day with two blocks.
On Sunday, Drake dominated the Bradley Braves 77-51 to win the MVC championship.
Drake and Bradley had last played each other in the final regular season game for both teams, in which Bradley defeated Drake 73-61 to secure the one seed in the MVC tournament. Bradley did not, however, replicate their success when it mattered the most.
The Bulldogs came out of the tunnel with a determination that Bradley was seemingly unprepared for. Drake went on an 11-3 run to begin the game and they never took their foot off of the gas pedal.
Drake finished the first half with a sizable 41-21 lead and every possible bit of momentum. The crowd, which was visually split between people wearing red and blue, was audibly dominated by the voices of those in blue. The Bulldogs had effectively silenced the Bradley faithful.
Atypical of Drake in the second half, they did not allow Bradley to make a comeback push. The Bulldogs came out of halftime with just as much energy as they entered the first half and continued to outplay the beat-down Braves.
Devries led Drake in scoring with 22 points and three three-pointers. MVP chants were raining down in the enterprise center every time Devries scored, which happened often.
The Drake fans continued to show their appreciation for Brodie, who pieced together a phenomenal game against Bradley and an impressive tournament overall. Brodie finished the championship game with 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, topping his day off with a rare contested three-point in garbage time.
Brodie chants from Drake fans echoing throughout the arena became a common occurrence throughout the tournament, and that was no different against Bradley. To put the cherry on top, Brodie banked in a three-pointer at the end of the game.
Sturtz and Sardaar Calhoun also performed well in the championship, providing Drake with quick scoring and few mistakes in their crucial minutes played. Sturtz finished the game with 12 points, many of which were scored off of heavily contested shots with his signature mid-range runner shot. Calhoun finished with eight points and two three-pointers. Calhoun also continued his lock-down defensive play.
The Bulldogs will hope to write a Cinderella story for themselves and pull off upset victories in next week’s March Madness tournament. Specific matchup dates, times, and teams will be announced on March 12 on CBS.