DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)—P’Allen Stinnett broke down the floor for an easy layup that would have brought Creighton within one score with 40 seconds left. There was only one problem.
Instead of going through the hoop, the ball got stuck between the rim and the glass. Drake owned the possession arrow, and why wouldn’t it?
Everything is going right for the Bulldogs these days.
Josh Young tied a career high with 24 points and 16th-ranked Drake beat Creighton 75-65 on Wednesday night to push its school-record winning streak to 18 games. With No. 2 Kansas’ loss to Kansas State, the Bulldogs (19-1, 10-0 Missouri Valley Conference) now have the nation’s second-longest winning streak behind top-ranked Memphis.
Jonathan Cox added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who finished the game on a 10-0 run and are 10-0 in the Valley for the first time in school history.
First-year coach Keno Davis, who saw his fair share of heartbreaking defeats in four years as an assistant to his father, Tom Davis, isn’t even surprised by the Bulldogs’ good fortune anymore. After decades of mediocrity, Drake finally has a team good enough to get lucky.
“In the last four years, you remember the shots that beat us,” Davis said. “Those usually happen to good teams, and it’s just funny. It seems like the better teams get those breaks.”
Drake pushed its lead to 70-65 on two free throws by Cox and a 3-pointer by Leonard Houston with 1:51 left. Stinnett followed with his blunder, and Young hit two free throws with 31 seconds left to seal the win. Drake shot 92.9 percent from the free throw line in the second half.
“When it gets down really close, this team has the confidence to pull a game like this off,” Drake’s Adam Emmenecker said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, we just know that one of our players will step up and make the play.”
Booker Woodfox scored 19 points and Stinnett had 15 to lead Creighton (14-6, 5-5), which has lost three straight.
“It was a good ballgame until about two minutes to go,” Bluejays coach Dana Altman said. “We didn’t finish the game. … They just continue to make plays when they need to.”
The second half mirrored the teams’ last matchup, when Drake pulled out a 68-60 victory in overtime last week in Omaha, Neb. After squandering an eight-point lead early in the second half, Drake jumped ahead 65-61 on Emmenecker’s layup with 4:13 left. Creighton tied it at 65 just 53 seconds later.
The lead changed hands six times in the second half. Houston scored 14 and Emmenecker added 12 points and nine assists.
Drake went 3-of-4 from 3-point range to open the second half and threatened to pull away. But Creighton responded with an 11-2 run, highlighted by a fast-break layup by Woodfox and a 3 by Dane Watts, to go ahead 50-49 with 10:17 left.
Young, making his first start since spraining his right ankle on Jan. 9, started with two quick 3s that put Drake ahead 15-8. Creighton pulled to 26-23 before Young pulled up and calmly drilled a 25-footer. Then Cox, off a behind-the-back flip pass from Emmenecker, hit a 3 to push Drake’s lead to 32-23 with 1:12 left in the first.
Young was 6-of-8 from 3-point range.
“They’re a tough team to defend because they do get you spread out so much,” Altman said. “They make a lot of good plays and they finish them.”
Woodfox answered with a 3 and a three-point play, bringing Creighton to 34-29 at the break. The Bluejays, led by Woodfox’s 11 points, got 20 from the bench in the first half.
Klayton Korver became the 20th player in Drake history to score 1,000 points with a 3 midway through the first half. His brother Kaleb, a freshman guard for Creighton, went scoreless in four minutes. Their oldest brother, current Utah Jazz forward Kyle, was the Valley’s player of the year at Creighton in 2002 and 2003.
The Bluejays were coming off a 48-44 loss to Southern Illinois, their lowest scoring output since 1994. Creighton, the league’s second-highest scoring offense entering play, got back on track by shooting 48 percent in the second half. But the Bluejays only got to the line twice, making both.
“We had our opportunities. Defensively, we just gave up too many easy plays,” Altman said.
Perhaps some of Drake’s mojo can be traced to former Drake star and current radio broadcaster Dolph Pulliam, who has worn the same lucky leather suit for the past 17 games at the behest of Davis. Seeing a 6-foot-8 man draped in blue leather for two months straight is quite the sight.
Then again, so is seeing the Bulldogs win games that, for decades, they’d usually lose.
“We’ve got to continue to play up to this level, and we’re going to have chances to win games at the end,” Davis said. “Hopefully, we stay healthy and keep focusing on what got us here.”