Cox, Emmenecker lead Drake past Illinois State to first Valley tourney title
ST. LOUIS (AP)—Drake completed its improbable clean sweep in the Missouri Valley Conference. So did former walk-on and bench warmer Adam Emmenecker.
Emmenecker added the conference tournament MVP to his regular-season MVP on Sunday, finishing up a dazzling weekend with 16 points and six assists in the No. 20 Bulldogs’ 79-49 rout of Illinois State in the title game.
Drake’s first postseason championship in the 32-year-old Valley tournament appeared just as unlikely of a prospect back in November.
“We thought that maybe by his senior year he could start for us,” coach Keno Davis said. “But I never had any idea he could do this.
“He’s exceeded all of our expectations, kind of like our team has.”
Jonathan Cox had 20 points and Klayton Korver added 10 for Drake (28-4), which shot 55.6 percent and became the first school to sweep the regular-season and tournament titles since co-champ Creighton in 2002.
The title game matched rookie head coaches from programs picked to finish near the bottom of the conference and coming off a combined 32-31 showing in 2006-07, and Drake became the first top seed to win the tournament in 11 seasons.
“We’ve never come close to the NCAA tournament, or the NIT for that matter,” Emmenecker said. “This is the big deal.”
A 19-0 run late in the first half allowed the celebration to commence early for the automatic NCAA berth, Drake’s first since 1971 and first postseason bid of any kind since making the NIT field in 1986. The Bulldogs led 40-19 at the half against a team that forced them to rally from double-digit deficits in both regular season meetings, and the gap grew to 33 points before Davis began emptying the bench.
“What we do is awfully tough to defend,” Davis said. “When we can put shooters around the 3-point line, teams have a tough time trying to figure out what to take away.
“And Adam, what can you say? He just does it all.”
Illinois State’s last lead was at 9-6 just after the five-minute mark. Drake won three tournament games by an average of 20 points with a mix of long-range shooting, going 10-for-24 from 3-point range in the final, and deft passing that often led to easy layups.
“They played something like a perfect game,” Illinois State guard Osiris Eldridge said. “It seems like they made every shot out there.”
The 6-foot-1 Emmenecker had only two career starts before emerging his senior season. He had his first career rebounds-points double-double in the quarterfinals, and a little-man double-double with 20 points and a career-high 11 assists in the semifinals.
Eldridge had 14 points for Illinois State (24-9), the No. 2 tournament seed led by coach Tim Jankovich that entered with a six-game winning streak. But Eldridge scored only five on 2-for-9 shooting in the first half as the game got away, and the Redbirds absorbed their worst beating since an 82-43 loss at Creighton on Dec. 12, 1999.
Illinois State’s first loss this season, a 13-pointer to Indiana on Nov. 23, had been the largest margin of defeat.
Jankovich is hopeful the loss won’t hurt his school’s chances for its first NCAA bid since 1998, but didn’t want to plead his case. Illinois State had an RPI of 31 before Sunday’s game, while Drake was at No. 13.
“I hate hearing coaches do that, it just kind of drives me nuts,” Jankovich said.
“Do I think we’re deserving? Yes, I do. But the committee has a tough job.”
Six players contributed to the 19-0 run over 6 1/2 minutes that transformed a one-point game into a rout. The Bulldogs were 8-for-10 and scored on seven consecutive possessions, while hounding Illinois State to 0-for-6 with five turnovers.
After missing six of its first seven shots, Drake ended up at 53 percent for the half while Illinois State was 1-for-9 from 3-point range and shot 37.5 percent overall.
Eldridge scored off his own miss after a couple of Drake players batted the rebound free with 7:34 to go to cut Drake’s lead to 18-17, but Illinois State didn’t score again until Dom Johnson’s basket in the lane with 1:01 left made it 37-19. Drake was 5-for-11 on 3-pointers in the half, the last by the 6-8 Cox in the final minute for a 40-19 lead at the break.
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