Drake tries to show its Top 25 ranking is warranted

·2 min read

For the first time in 13 years, Drake appears in the Associated Press Top 25.

Checking in at No. 25 in this week's poll, the Bulldogs aim to validate that ranking and keep their undefeated season going Monday night by sweeping their Missouri Valley Conference home series with Illinois State.

Drake (16-0, 7-0) certainly didn't have it easy in Sunday's series opener with the Redbirds (5-11, 2-8), pulling out a 78-76 overtime win. Backup point guard Joseph Yesefu drained a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs the lead in overtime, but they couldn't exhale until ISU missed a driving layup as time expired.

"I'm happy to come away with a win in a hard-fought Valley game with some big swings," Drake coach Darian DeVries said. "It's league play, you have to find a way sometimes. Today was one of them and we were able to survive and get the win."

There weren't many "survival" days for the Bulldogs at the beginning of the season. Twelve of their first 13 wins occurred by double digits. Among them was a season-opening 80-70 decision at Big 12 Conference foe Kansas State, and a pair of routs of Southern Illinois when the Salukis were 7-1.

Drake offers balanced scoring, good defense and excellent rebounding. ShanQuan Hemphill's 14.1 points per game leads the team, while six other players chip in at least 7.8 points per game. The Bulldogs shoot 51.2 percent from the field and 38.7 percent on 3-pointers, enabling them to average 82.2 points.

Defensively, they have limited opponents to 61.8 points on 39.1-percent field goal shooting. And Drake finishes most defensive possessions with a rebounding, posting a margin of plus 8.2 and recording a defensive rebound rate of 76.8 percent.

One might not have known it from Sunday's game, but Illinois State is going through a second straight losing season that has warmed the seat of coach Dan Muller. The Redbirds have been spotty defensively, yielding 75.9 ppg, and have been outrebounded by 2.2 per game.

But they nearly pulled off a stunner in Des Moines behind a career-high 27 points by Antonio Reeves. They scored the first eight points of each half and displayed resilience, rallying from a 15-point second half deficit to tie it with 5 seconds remaining, but missed a free throw that would have given them the lead.

"I'm proud of the guys and how well they competed against a really good team," Muller said, "but that doesn't take away from how tough this loss is."

--Field Level Media