DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)—After winning so many close games, Drake finally let one slip through its fingers.
Bradley’s Jeremy Crouch hit a jumper with 11 seconds left, capping a 12-2 run that gave the Braves a 72-71 victory over No. 16 Drake on Tuesday night, the Bulldogs’ first home loss of the season.
Crouch scored 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting to lead Bradley (16-12, 9-7 Missouri Valley Conference), which held Drake (23-3, 14-2) scoreless for the final 5 minutes.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 13 points early in the second half, but they couldn’t conjure up the late-game magic that helped carry them to 22 wins in 23 games and their first regular-season conference title since 1971.
“Crouch got some great looks, which we shouldn’t have given them,” Drake coach Keno Davis said. “We just didn’t have enough at the end.”
Bradley, winners of eight of its last 10, took its first lead of the second half when Crouch pulled up just inside the 3-point line and drilled the jumper that made it 72-71.
It was a shot Bradley spent all night setting up.
Drake knew the Braves rely heavily on the 3-pointer, so it played Bradley’s outside shooters aggressively. Crouch sensed this and pump-faked Klayton Korver, allowing him to set his feet and get a clear look at the basket.
“They’d really been flying at our shot fakes and things like that, so I gave him a shot fake and he went for it. I just tried to make a natural shot,” Crouch said.
Korver then missed an open jumper and Josh Young’s desperation shot hit the rim as time expired. The crowd, which had grown accustomed to seeing the Bulldogs squeak out wins, left stunned.
“They outplayed us and deserved to win. We gave them some open looks and they knocked down the shots that really counted,” Korver said.
Young had 23 points and Jonathan Cox added 15 for Drake, which has lost two of three as its heads into its biggest test so far, a mid-major showdown at No. 8 Butler on Saturday.
The Braves trailed 67-57 with 7:11 left, but Matt Salley and Theron Wilson made layups to bring Bradley within 71-67, and Sam Maniscalco hit a 3 with 1:13 left to make it 71-70.
That’s when Young made a critical error. He got the ball with just a few seconds difference between the shot and the game clock, but instead of holding onto the ball he shot and missed a 3.
Bradley got the ball back with the shot clock turned off, setting up Crouch’s game-winner.
“This was a tough one to lose, especially when we had them on the ropes,” Young said. “They hung in there and pulled it out.”
Wilson had 15 points and Daniel Ruffin added 11 for Bradley, which exacted a measure of revenge after losing to Drake 69-68 on Jan. 16 on a buzzer-beater by Adam Emmenecker.
This was Bradley’s biggest road win over a ranked team since beating No. 12 Tulsa 69-64 on Feb. 21, 1985.
The Braves played without sophomore guard Andrew Warren, the team’s third-leading scorer at 13.1 points a game. He broke his left hand Saturday in a win over Creighton.
“We asked for everybody to do a little bit more, and I thought we got that,” Bradley coach Jim Les said. “(Crouch) took over the offensive load. He’s one of the best shooters in the country. When he gets going, they all look like they’re going in.”
Young opened the second half with three quick baskets—all on strong drives to the rim—and added a long 3 and a jumper in traffic to give the Bulldogs a 46-34 lead. Bradley used a 9-0 run to pull within 53-50 midway through the second half, but Korver hit three straight 3s to put the Bulldogs ahead 62-53.
“Awfully resilient,” Les said. “It would have been easy for us to hang our heads and bow down. Our guys just kept battling and fighting.”
After trailing by as much as 20-9, Drake finished the first half on a 19-8 run to tie the game at 33.
Bradley hit seven of its first nine shots to take the early 11-point lead. Drake tightened up its defense and pulled within 25-21 on a putback by Leonard Houston. Jacob Baryenbruch and Cox hit consecutive 3-pointers to give the Bulldogs their first lead, 31-30. Ruffin hit a 3 as time expired in the first half to bring the Braves even.
Confidence has played a key role in Drake’s remarkable run to the Valley title, and the Bulldogs felt like they’d pull it out even after Crouch’s game-winner. For one of the few times this season, though, they were outplayed in crunch time.
“We thought we were going to win,” Korver said. “They came out early, we took a punch. We gave them one back and got the lead, but they just made the plays at the end of the game. That’s what you’ve got to do to win.”