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Drake men’s basketball’s brilliant season clouded by ending

Photo by Meghan Holloran | Digital Editor

The Drake men’s basketball season came to a disappointing end in March Madness at the hands of the No. 5 seed Miami Hurricanes, but this loss does not define the season for the Bulldogs.

In 2023, Drake made it to the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in the school’s history and won the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) for the first time since 2008. The team finished with a 27-8 record overall and a 15-5 record in the MVC.

Sophomore forward Tucker DeVries was named MVC player of the year; Roman Penn was named to the MVC All-Conference team. Garrett Sturtz was named to the All-Conference Third Team and Connor Enright was named to the All-Freshman Team. This Drake Bulldogs team was flush with talent and experience and although they came up short in March Madness, they still accomplished great feats. 

The Drake Bulldogs began the season red-hot, playing their way to a 9-1 record in their first 10 games. Drake secured wins against fellow MVC opponent UIC and Louisiana Ragin Cajuns, who also made the NCAA  Tournament. The Bulldogs also took a trip down to the U.S. Virgin Islands where they won the Paradise Jam Tournament with a 71-64 win over Tarleton State. Against Tarleton State, DeVries went 8-of-8 from the free throw line, 4-of-4 from 3-point range, and scored 22 points overall, leading Drake to the victory.

After a hot start, the Bulldogs lost their rhythm and would go on to lose four out of their next seven games. Challenging road stretches saw Drake lose games against Richmond, St. Louis, Missouri State, and Southern Illinois. 

Following the rough stretch in December and early January, Drake finished the regular season with 15 consecutive games against conference opponents. The Bulldogs showed their dominance over the MVC during this stretch, winning 13 of the 15 games.

This stretch included a 10-game Bulldog win streak, with notable wins coming against Indiana State and the University of Northern Iowa at the Knapp Center. The contest against Indiana State ended in a game winning 3-point shot by D.J. Wilkins with two seconds remaining. Drake was down by one point when Wilkins iced the game in dramatic fashion. 

Contrary to the finish of the Indiana State game, UNI was the team making buzzer-beater shots. UNI guard Bowen Born, who was named to the 2023 All-Conference Second Team, swished two 3-point buzzer-beaters to send the game to overtime and double-overtime. Born silenced the Drake crowd twice, but his heroic efforts were not enough to propel UNI past the Bulldog’s attack. Born fouled out in the second overtime and Drake secured an 88-81 win against the in-state rival.

With one game left in the regular season, Drake traveled to Peoria, Ill. to play against the Bradley Braves. The winner would secure the No. 1 seed in the tournament and in theory, secure the easiest path to winning the Arch Madness Tournament in St. Louis. Although Drake was coming into the high-stakes contest riding a 10-game win streak, they dropped the game to Bradley 61-73 and went into Arch Madness as the No. 2 seed.

Drake proved throughout the course of the Arch Madness Tournament that their loss to Bradley was a fluke, and they were the best team in the MVC. Tearing through the conference, Drake defeated Murray State, SIU and Bradley on their way to March Madness and the MVC Championship. Drake defeated all of their opponents in the tournament by 12 or more points, and the Bulldog seniors won their first MVC title in their last season of eligibility.

Drake would go on to drop their first round March Madness game to the Miami Hurricanes in heartbreaking fashion, suffering the blow of a 16-1 Hurricane run in the final minutes of the game.

Considering they were coming into March Madness as a No. 12 seed team, Drake’s season was most likely going to end in a loss. Although the final result of the season was not the one Drake hoped for, the loss does not discredit everything they achieved.

Now that the season is over, the looming questions are what will the team look like next season and will they be able to replicate their success? Penn, Wilkins and Sturtz were all in their final year of eligibility and they’ll hand the Bulldog pack over to the younger players. The team certainly has holes to fill, and they will likely be filled through the transfer portal and recruiting. Head Coach Darian DeVries has already been busy recruiting as he’s added four-star guard Chico Johnson and three-star guard Kevin Overton to the roster for next season. 

Although beloved Drake players will be moving on, plenty of talent will remain with the team and even more, will be brought in. Coach DeVries has reinvigorated the Drake men’s basketball program and they will be a force in the MVC for years to come. 

3 Comments

  1. Kimberly Bousquet March 31, 2023

    Beautifully written. Great article!

  2. Connie Bousquet March 31, 2023

    Great job Em. A very positive article that reminds fans of the enjoyment they had throughout the season. One game ( which can hurt)does not diminish the players or coach. Well done Drake team & coach

  3. Jim Bousquet March 31, 2023

    Great article.

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