Chicago, IL– The Drake Bulldogs entered John G. Gentile arena on Saturday with a chance to sweep the season series against the Loyola Chicago Ramblers. Both teams have set the standard for the Missouri Valley conference and were atop the preseason polls to start the season. The Ramblers are looking to secure another NCAA tournament bid under first year head coach Drew Valentine and a split against Drake would help with that case. However, the Bulldogs played one of their more complete games of the season and came away with the 83-76 win.
Drake started off the matchup shooting lights out from the perimeter, connecting on four of five 3-point attempts within the first few minutes of action. Freshman forward Tucker Devries hit two of those 3-point jumpers and the Bulldogs jumped out to a 16-5 lead, forcing Valentine to call an early timeout to regroup his squad. Loyola Chicago tightened up their man defense and started to contest Drake’s perimeter shooting more effectively. That defense translated over to the offensive end of the court and the Ramblers were able to rely on their veteran guard, Lucas Williamson who hit a 3-pointer to get his team within seven points of the Bulldogs. Drake would also turn it up defensively and made Loyola Chicago work hard to get a good shot off in the halfcourt. The Bulldogs did a nice job of getting in passing lanes and forcing 13 turnovers from the Ramblers. The remainder of the first half saw Devries putting his offensive versatility on display. The 6’7” shooting guard was able to put the ball on the deck and score near the rim, showing that he is capable of being more than just an outside shooter. Drake would end the first half outplaying the Ramblers on both ends of the court and walked into halftime with a double-digit lead (41-31).
The second half began with Drake continuing to be aggressive and drawing fouls, while the Ramblers fought hard and got the sold-out crowd up on their feet when they cut the halftime deficit down to five (50-45) after a 3-point make by Aher Uguak. The Bulldogs senior guard Roman Penn displayed his ability to hit the mid-range jump shot off the dribble and then found teammate Garrett Sturtz cutting to the hoop for the easy bucket. Drake would build back up that double-digit cushion that it had for most of the first half and went up 60-50 at the 8:43 mark. The next five minutes of the second half saw more of the same, as Loyola Chicago would seem to gain momentum and look to close the gap, only to have a reach in foul ruin the progress. Williamson’s efforts on the offensive end continued to give his team a chance as he hit an old-fashioned three-point play just under the 4-minute TV timeout. Loyola Chicago then decided to mix it up on defense and hoped to disrupt Drake’s offensive timing and rhythm with full court pressure. The defensive strategy stretched the game out longer as Drake would be at the free throw line for most of the rest of the game. Williamson was still attacking the Bulldogs defense and hit a 3-pointer at the wing to bring the Ramblers within four points (75-71). On the following possession, Devries silenced the crowd and sealed the deal with a 3-point jumper to make it 78-71 with 1:00 minute remaining. The shot came off a pump fake and showed his basketball IQ and poise to confidently knock down a crucial shot in crunch time. Sturtz then stole the ball and Drake held off Loyola Chicago 83-76.
Drake played an all-around game and had an effective gameplan that was executed well from its personnel. Devries led the Bulldogs and matched a season high with 24 points. Sturtz played all 40 minutes for Drake and contributed with 15 points and seven 7 rebounds. Loyola Chicago’s Williamson put up a career high in points with 27 but didn’t receive its normal production from Braden Norris. The junior point guard put up 10 points, which is right around his average on the season, but wasn’t efficient from the floor like he normally is, shooting only 2-of-10 for the game.
Drake (19-9, 10-5) heads back home to face Indiana State on Monday. The Bulldogs will look to gain momentum on a winning streak heading into the MVC tournament and will most likely need to win it to clinch a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Loyola Chicago (20-6, 11-4) heads down to Illinois State to try to keep their NCAA tournament hopes intact.