Just as Southern Illinois had the honor of being the team I followed most this season, Drake had the distinction of being the only Missouri Valley team I did not get to see in person during the regular season. Des Moines is a long trip from St. Louis, and their schedule just didn't work out right to bring them close to me on a day I could get away to see them.
But I knew I would get my chance here at Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley Tournament, during the second game of the Opening Round doubleheader as the Bulldogs took on Bradley.
The Braves came into Thursday without their leading scorer, the always well-bespectacled Taylor Brown, whose season and career had ended due to a lingering foot injury that had reasserted itself. The absence of offense was quickly noticed as Drake jumped out to a 12-0 lead. Bradley would quickly shake off the cobwebs and start to score, but the damage had been done. The Bulldog lead held steady.
Shortly after that, my MVC mole joined me in the even more sparsely populated upper deck, and presented me with some sweet Valley swag. We discussed the Southern Illinois/Indiana State game that had just wrapped up as we watched Drake continue to hold a double digit lead for most of the first half. He had some dish about the SIU press conference and the questions surrounding coach Chris Lowery's job. Surely his seat is as hot as July after four straight years of downward trend. We also joked about how ironic it was that the Bradley band liked to play the Sportscenter theme so often, even though the "Worldwide Leader" has nothing to do with this tournament. The games are all broadcast regionally on Fox Sports affiliates, with the championship game a staple of CBS's "Sunday before Selection Sunday" lineup. I never understood why that is, but it helps the Valley stand apart from the other conferences who have to foul up their schedules to meet the Leader's whims.
The second half saw much of the same action as the first. Bradley would attempt to cut into the Drake lead, but could not execute well enough to get it done. Even when they could score, Drake would quickly answer. Rayvonte Rice scored three straight baskets, one a nice, but not quite OMG, dunx on his way to 18 points for the night. A couple of late superhoops from Ben Simons capped off the game as Drake advanced to face Creighton. The first year under Geno Ford in Peoria ends at 7-25, far from expectations, but part of the process of rebuilding Bradley basketball.
DRAKE 65, BRADLEY 49 03/01/2012
BRADLEY 7-25 (2-16) -- W. Lemon Jr 5-13 4-6 16; D. Simms-Edwards 5-12 3-5 14; J. Eastman 1-11 2-2 4; A. Thompson 2-2 0-1 4; S. Shayok 0-0 2-2 2; J. Crawford 1-5 0-0 3; J. Prosser 3-6 0-0 6; C. Woods 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-50 11-16 49. DRAKE 17-14 (9-9) -- B. Simons 5-14 3-3 16; R. Rice 7-13 4-5 18; J. Jeffers 3-9 2-2 8; J. Clarke 2-6 1-1 5; K. Alexander 4-7 0-2 8; D. Smith 1-1 0-0 2; A. Hawley 2-2 1-2 6; K. Woods 1-2 0-0 2; K. Madison 0-0 0-0 0; C. Parker 0-0 0-0 0; J. Welfringer 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 11-15 65.
Three-point goals: BRAD 4-20 (J. Eastman 0-4; C. Woods 0-1; D. Simms-Edwards 1-5; W. Lemon 2-6; J. Crawford 1-4), DRKE 4-13 (A. Hawley 1-1; B. Simons 3-7; K. Alexander 0-1; J. Jeffers 0-2; R. Rice 0-1; J. Welfringer 0-1); Rebounds: BRAD 28 (J. Eastman 7), DRKE 34 (J. Clarke 9); Assists: BRAD 8 (D. Simms-Edwards 3), DRKE 12 (B. Simons 3); Total Fouls -- BRAD 14, DRKE 19; Fouled Out: BRAD-None; DRKE-None.