DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)—Two weeks after clinching the Missouri Valley Conference title, Drake finally got to cut down the nets.
Klayton Korver scored 19 points and Adam Emmenecker and Leonard Houston added 14 each as the 20th-ranked Bulldogs closed their best regular season in 39 years with a 73-63 victory over Wichita State on Saturday.
The Bulldogs reached the 25-win mark for the first time since 1969, when they went to the Final Four.
Drake hadn’t gotten a chance to celebrate its regular season Valley title, though, because they won it on the road against Northern Iowa on Feb 16.
So the Bulldogs (25-4, 15-3) pulled out all the stops after the game, sending blue and white streamers to the court as the prelude to a net-cutting ceremony. Fans stuck around long after the final buzzer to see something most of them have never witnessed; the Bulldogs celebrating a league title.
Drake will be the top seed in next week’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament for the first time in its 32-year history.
“It was nice to sit back after the game and kind of let the players enjoy it,” first-year coach Keno Davis said. “Those memories of cutting down the nets, getting the trophy, Senior Day, those are going to stand out.”
Wichita State gave Drake a brief scare late, cutting a 14-point deficit to 63-58 even with star PJ Couisnard on the bench in foul trouble. But Emmenecker converted a three-point play and, after Wichita State was called for offensive goaltending, Korver drilled a 3-pointer to put Drake ahead 69-58 with 1:56 left.
Couisnard led Wichita State (11-19, 4-14) with 20 points and Ramon Clemente added 11 points and 17 rebounds.
The Shockers lost for the fifth time in six games, but Gregg Marshall—like many Valley coaches before him—walked away thinking his team could have toppled the Bulldogs.
“I thought we played hard but we didn’t play smart tonight. You have to play smarter to come in here and beat a team like Drake,” Marshall said. “I hope we play Drake again in the tournament and I probably won’t change my game plan.”
Drake pushed a seven-point lead to 45-31 early in the second half as Jonathan Cox and Emmenecker both converted three-point plays. It looked like Wichita State was done when Couisnard picked up his fourth foul with 8:23 left, but the Shockers rallied, cutting Drake’s lead to 57-52 on a three-point play by Matt Braeuer with 6:23 left.
Wichita State committed seven fouls in the first 4 minutes of the second half. Drake, the conference’s leading free throw shooting team at 75.5 percent entering play, took advantage by going 17-of-24 from the line in the second half.
Emmenecker, in particular, attacked the basket once the Shockers went into the bonus. He drove to the basket for 3-point plays four times in the second half and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the line.
“We simply got beat at the foul line, especially in the second half,” Marshall said. “Drake’s bread and butter is to drive to the basket and either make it or go to the foul line.”
Korver was 4-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half and drained two long 3s to put the Bulldogs ahead 27-18. The Shockers answered with an 8-2 run, but Jonathan Cox hit a 3 from the baseline that gave Drake a 34-27 halftime lead.
Wichita State played without senior forward Phillip Thomasson, who injured a tendon in his right foot last Tuesday against Evansville. The Shockers missed Thomasson’s presence down low, as Drake outscored them 32-24 in the paint.
With an assist midway through the second half, Emmenecker broke the school record for assists in a season, 174, set by Al Stewart in 2007. The senior point guard has been hyped as a contender for conference player of the year honors— more so for his leadership and heads-up play than his stats—but Davis said Emmenecker is hardly the only Drake player worthy of consideration.
“I don’t see how the MVP couldn’t be from our team,” Davis said. “If you’re going say it’s strictly about who is the most valuable, we’ve got a few guys that should be on the list.”