DES MOINES, Iowa – The Drake University men’s basketball team outlasted a furious second half rally by No. 17/12 Creighton to stun the Bluejays, 74-69, in a thrilling finishWednesday evening before a crowd of 6,162 fans at the Knapp Center.
“I’m extremely proud of our team, and they showed great resiliency and toughness to pull off this win tonight at home,” Drake head coach Mark Phelps said following the game.
Four Bulldogs (9-10, 3-5) scored in double figures, led by Richard Carter (Detroit, Mich.), who had 20 points coming off the bench. Ben Simons (Cadillac, Mich.) scored 13 points, Daddy Ugbede (Gardena, Calif.) had a career performance with 12 points, and Jeremy Jeffers (Wilson, N.C.) finished with 11 points.
“Jeremy typifies the resiliency we talk about,” Phelps said of Jeffers scoring, which included critical back-to-back three-pointers. “He’s had to make adjustments this year and has stayed the course and continued to believe in his teammates.”
Despite shooting over 50 percent in the first half, the Bulldogs struggled from the field in the second half and finished the game shooting 24-for-54 from the field, for a 44.4 percent clip. Drake also connected on eight shots from three-point range. Creighton (17-3, 6-2) finished the game with a 45.0 percent performance from the field. However, Drake’s defense held the nation’s top three-point shooting team to a frigid 23.8 percent mark from three-point range on five makes.
Creighton was led by the efforts of All-American Doug McDermott who scored 19 points, but only had two in the second half. Grant Gibbs had 18 points – all in the second half – and Austin Chatman added 10 points.
“Him [McDermott] not hitting a three-pointer was big,” Phelps said. “He’s a monster and Jeremy Jeffers did a great job battling and giving up his body. You’ve got to limit his touches and I thought Jeremy did a very good job of that and was very active.”
Although Drake went into halftime with a 16-point lead, Creighton rallied coming out of the break.
The Bluejays erased that deficit with 7:10 remaining in the game after an 8-0 run allowed them to overcome Drake, 62-61. The Bulldogs stopped that run, and held a slight lead, 71-66, to force a Bluejay timeout with 0:47 remaining on the clock.
Coming out of the timeout, Gibbs converted a three-point play and Creighton forced a Drake turnover on the ensuing possession, giving Creighton the ball with 25.3 seconds left in the game, trailing 71-69. Gibbs got the call following Creighton’s timeout, but could not convert a driving layup, with Carter coming down with the ball with 9.2 seconds left. Carter was fouled hard, but made one of his two free throws to give Drake a 72-69 lead.
The Bluejays could not hit the equalizing three on their next possession and were forced to foul Simons, who iced the game with a pair of free throws to earn Drake’s first win over a ranked opponent since a 71-64 win over No. 8 Butler on Feb. 23, 2008.
“I think we’ve always believed we could be a good team, we just hadn’t put it together,” Simons said. “Even then, we didn’t play a great second half. There’s things we can still learn and we knew Creighton was going to make a run. We finally made enough plays down the stretch to get the win.”
Creighton started its comeback early in the second half, using a 7-0 run to cut into Drake’s lead, 47-38, forcing a timeout by Drake with 16:38 on the clock. During its run, the nation’s top three-point offense finally was able to connect on its first three-point basket after not being able to connect for the first 23:12 of the game.
Creighton’s run stole all of the momentum from Drake, as the Bluejays erased their deficit to just two points at the second official timeout in the second half, down 53-51, with 11:48 remaining in the game.
Despite holding McDermott in check, Gibbs almost single-handedly brought the Bluejays back into the game, scoring 13 points during the comeback after being scoreless in the first half. During this stretch of the game, Creighton was shooting 60.0 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three, while Drake struggled, shooting just 22.2 percent.
Drake outrebounded Creighton, 39-31, with Carter and Jordan Clarke (Rockville, Md.) controlling the boards with seven boards each. Drake’s bench outscored the Bluejay bench, 43-14, playing a key role in the Bulldogs’ win.
The Bulldogs were forced to call an early timeout in the first half, with 15:04 remaining in the half, after Creighton jumped out to a quick start offensively. McDermott proved to be a tough matchup from the start, tallying eight early points for the Bluejays, and giving his team a 12-5 lead early in the game.
The timeout proved to be effective for Drake, as the Bulldogs clamped down on defense, disrupting Creighton’s attack, while the offense picked up the tempo and used a 9-2 run that lasted over 3:29 to draw even, 14-14, at the second official timeout of the half.
The Bulldogs continued their strong play and thanks to back-to-back three-point buckets by Carter, Drake took its first lead, 25-20, with 7:31 left in the first half.
Drake took all the momentum into the locker room, leading the Bluejays 44-28 at halftime, the largest margin of the year for the Bulldogs in conference games and the third largest of the year. Drake was able to extend its lead over the final three minutes of the half by using a 12-0 run.
Despite a cold start to the game, the Bulldogs responded to their early timeout by shooting 53.3 percent from the field. The Bluejays, meanwhile, shot just 39.3 percent in the half and did not make a shot from beyond the arc. Drake also held a 22-13 rebounding advantage in the first half.
McDermott led all scorers at the break with 17 points, but Carter was not far behind the All-American, with 14 points of his own. Ugbede also eclipsed his career-high in scoring, recording eight points at the break. Drake’s bench was a crucial factor in the first half, outscoring the Creighton bench, 25-2.
“Daddy was big coming with a lot of energy and creating extra opportunities,” Simons said of Ugbede’s game. “He does a lot of things that help teams win and he’s going to be a great player in four years but he’s helping us out right now and kept us afloat tonight.”
Drake will be on the road this weekend, returning to action on Sunday, against Missouri State. Tipoff against the Bears is scheduled for 2 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3 or heard on KRNT 1350 AM in Des Moines.