Drake’s game-snatching surge to open the second half swung a two-point game firmly toward the blue-clad contingency — and provided enough breathing room for a 75-65 win at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. The Bulldogs (19-13) will indeed get a re-do with top-seeded UNI. Quarterfinal tip is set for noon Friday.”No one wants to play on Thursday, but it is what it is,” sophomore Liam Robbins said. “Our mindset was to take one game at a time and try to go win four. We came out here, gave it our all — and we’ll be ready to go at Northern Iowa tomorrow.”Getting that quarterfinal opportunity wasn’t a given for Drake, which only mustered a season split with Illinois State (10-21) despite the Redbirds’ ugly 5-13 MVC ledger. In the first matchup on Jan. 16, the Bulldogs reached 84 points. In a Feb. 22 rematch, Drake barely sniffed 55. You can guess which outcome went with which result.
Drake’s Liam Robbins, left, heads to the basket as Illinois State’s Matt Chastain defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference men’s tournament Thursday, March 5, 2020, in St. Louis. (Photo: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press)
Offensively, Thursday’s affair was somewhere in between. The Bulldogs ripped off a 17-2 surge to start the second half, featuring three treys, a Garrett Sturtz layup and six points from Robbins that ultimately provided the necessary cushion. Soon after came a drought of more than seven minutes without a field goal. Drake then brought things full circle with a nice finish, after the Redbirds got as close as four.Robbins led Drake with 18 points and got double-digit assistance from Jonah Jackson (15), Anthony Murphy (17) and Sturtz (17). Keith Fisher’s 14 points and Antonio Reeves’ 13 headlined the Illinois State scoring.”Coach said they’re going to hit us with a run and don’t panic and stay composed,” Murphy said. “That’s what we did. Jonah hit some big shots, and Liam made some free throws — Garrett and myself, also.
Drake’s Garrett Sturtz passes during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Illinois State in the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference men’s tournament Thursday, March 5, 2020, in St. Louis. (Photo: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press)
A key Sturtz and-1 with 6:28 left stopped a 13-1 Redbird run and re-calibrated Drake for the final push. With their lead back in double figures at the 3:05 media timeout, the Bulldogs drained the remaining clock with a couple of key stops and enough free-throw conversions.It wasn’t a flawless closeout. But they don’t need to be this time of year.”I thought it was a great effort by our guys,” Drake coach Darian DeVries said. “It was great to see them playing a little loose and free. It was nice to see us get it opened up on the offensive end.”Now the Bulldogs get their chance to erase what unfolded less than a week ago on Senior Day. Drake, after watching UNI (25-5) clinch the outright MVC title with a 70-43 Knapp Center shellacking, would love nothing more than to derail the Panthers’ lofty March dreams.”Each team knows each other. Each teams knows the personnel,” Sturtz said. “It’ll be a good battle.”