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Drake men’s basketball closes in on the conference lead

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The Drake men's basketball team went 7-3 over winter break and J-term, elevating their national ranking and moving them closer to a Missouri Valley Conference lead with a win over the Indiana State Sycamores. Photo by Sarah Fey: Staff photographer.

A new year means a new year of sports, and now that the spring semester has arrived, the Drake University men’s basketball team is back after a long winter break to continue their excellent season. While students enjoyed some much needed time off over break, the team continued to play top-tier basketball.

  On Dec. 19, 2023, the Bulldogs tipped off against the Alcorn State Braves at home in the Knapp Center. Junior guard Atin Wright led the pack, with senior guard Kyron Gibson close behind, to help the Bulldogs win 92-55 against the Braves. 

Next on the team’s schedule was the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers on Dec. 22 at Bartow Arena. Although top players like Wright and junior guard Tucker DeVries performed great, the Bulldogs struggled significantly against the Blazers. The final score was 79-78, resulting in a Blazers win after regulation play and an intense overtime. 

Although the team had been struggling over winter break relative to their previous performances, the Bulldog fanbase hadn’t skipped a beat of support despite students being off-campus. 

“I think when we do have students, it brings more energy to the crowd,” sophomore guard Conor Enright said. “But the rest of Des Moines has done a great show showing up and cheering us on for sure, and I know we will be glad when students come back to have even more fans.” 

Following the loss against the Blazers, the Bulldogs came back strong with a clean 88-71 victory against the Illinois State Redbirds at the Knapp Center on Jan. 2. On Jan. 7, the team traveled to the Curb Event Center to take on the Belmont Bruins. The team tried its best with Wright putting up 14 points and DeVries close behind with 13, but the team took the 87-65 loss to the Bruins hard. 

After this loss, it was up to Drake to come back against the Indiana State Sycamores, the current conference leader within the Missouri Valley Conference, on Jan. 10 in the Knapp Center. DeVries led the team in this game with 29 points, and the Bulldogs walked away with a 89-78 victory. 

  To build a winning streak after this strong game, the Bulldogs traveled on Jan. 13 to Southern Illinois to take on the Salukis. Just like their previous game, Drake put forth their best efforts, with the help of DeVries’ 34 points, to bulldoze SIU 76-56. 

To back up this win, DeVries came right out the gate ready to play again against Illinois State on Jan. 17. All the Bulldogs had standout performances, led by graduate student Darnell Brodie with 11 points, Wright with 12 points, and DeVries with 25. This led Drake to a clean 77-56 victory over the Redbirds to add to the team’s three-game win streak.  

The Bulldog’s next game against Evansville on Jan. 20, at home, would not only be one of Drake’s biggest games of the season, but it also held a special meaning. 

“It is always fun playing in the Knapp Center, and this game was just a big game knowing that the alumni came back to see us and knowing they started this foundation here at Drake so we just wanted to play and show them a good time,” Gibson said following the game. 

  Although Alumni Night applied some pressure to the Bulldogs, the Evansville Aces were no match for the Bulldogs, and it was evident after the Bulldogs won 97-48 that the team was on fire. Despite this big win however, Drake seemed to struggle in its next game on Jan. 24 against Missouri State. After regulation play and double overtime, the Bulldogs fell 83-80 to the Bears. 

To finish their 10-game break schedule, the Bulldogs played the University of Northern Iowa at home on Jan. 27. Although the team was coming off a loss, the Bulldogs were able to pull off a 77-63 victory to leave their winter break record at 7-3.  

  Even if the Bulldogs didn’t play exactly how they might have wanted to over the break, their next game against Valparaiso at the Knapp on Wednesday, Jan. 31 will be a golden opportunity to put themselves one step closer to passing Indiana State to lead the MVC.

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