Milwaukee, WI – With most of the college basketball fans in the state of Iowa focused on the Iowa State-Iowa game on Thursday night, the Drake Bulldogs left their Des Moines, Iowa home to travel to Milwaukee to take on the Panthers for a non-conference game hoping to build on their 5-1 start to the season. Led by seniors Nick McGlynn and Nick Norton and getting a big game from freshman Liam Robbins playing off the bench, Drake raced out to a 38-22 halftime lead and was never threatened after that in posting a 75-61 victory.
Norton, a 5-10 graduate senior transfer from Alabama-Birmingham and coming off a triple-double of 18 points, 17 assists and 13 rebounds in a December 1 victory over North Dakota in his previous game, scored all of his 14 points in the first half. Playing primarily off the ball, he did most of his work from behind the arc where he made four of seven attempts. Norton shot mostly off the catch using a quick release to beat closeouts of the longer Milwaukee guards. He was able to find space in the Bulldogs’ set offense and was especially effective in transition where he took advantage of a Milwaukee defense in scramble mode to find openings behind the arc.
The 6-8 McGlynn did the heavy lifting for Drake in the second half. Saddled with two early fouls and playing only four minutes in the first half, the senior checked in at halftime with two points. Recognizing the need to get his leading scorer going in the second half, Drake Coach Darian DeVries called McGlynn’s number on the first Bulldogs possession out of halftime. McGlynn freed himself cutting off a cross screen, received a pass deep in the paint and scored at the rim. That hoop got McGlynn going and he went on to make half of his ten field goal attempts for the game on the way to scoring a team-high 15 points.
Drake received a big boost off its bench in the first half from 7-0 freshman Liam Robbins. A native of Davenport, Iowa, Robbins took over when McGlynn went to the bench with his second foul and immediately impacted the game with his scoring and rebounding skills. He scored two baskets in the first half, both in the paint and one after rolling out of a screen and showing sure hands making a clean catch of a low pass. Robbins knocked down both his first-half free throws shooting with a high release and soft touch. He misfired on two shots from behind the arc, but both shots had good shape and the fact that DeVries showed no displeasure with either shot attempt indicated that Robbins has the coach’s approval to shoot from distance.
With a high waist, long arms and young face, Robbins compares favorably to a young Cole Aldrich, a 6-11 big from Kansas who played eight years in the NBA mostly as a back-up center. Carrying averages of four points and three rebounds into the game, Robbins more than doubled those figures in scoring nine points and pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds. “People are going to be blown away with Liam,” said DeVries before the season started. “You add muscle and he’s got a real chance. He can step out and shoot threes. He catches well. He can go right-hand hook and left-hand hook. He’s got a chance to be a real special player for us.”
Milwaukee was playing its first game after traveling to Belfast, Northern Ireland to play two games against Buffalo and Stephen F. Austin. The Milwaukee lost both games, no black mark on the Panthers seeing how both teams were favorites to with their respective conferences, but especially struggled scoring only 51 points in the second-game loss to Stephen F. Austin. The Panthers brought those shooting struggles with them back to the mainland as they were only able to make 34 percent of their shots against Drake including 17 percent from behind the arc. Milwaukee leading scorer Darius Roy, limited to seven-first half minutes after picking up two fouls, scored 17 of his game-high 19 points after intermission.
“Certainly, without question, this is a disappointing loss because we were ready for this game,” said Milwaukee Coach Pat Baldwin. “I felt like we started with a great amount of energy. I think the bottom line is we gave up some open threes toward the middle of the first half that kind of opened them up and gave them some confidence. We just couldn’t recover after that.”
The game marked a homecoming of sorts for McGlynn and senior Brady Ellingson, a 6-4 wing. Both players played their high school basketball in Wisconsin, McGlynn in Stoughton and Ellingson at Hamilton High School in nearby Sussex. After earning his degree at Iowa and with a year of eligibility remaining, Ellingson transferred to Drake and has gotten off to a strong start for the Bulldogs. Starting all seven games for Drake after starting only one in his three-plus seasons at Iowa, Ellingson connected on three of five shots from distance in scoring 11 points against Milwaukee.
DeVries is the fifth head coach at Drake in the last five years. While that lack of continuity at the top of a program might spell disaster for some teams, DeVries has been able to mix a returning starter (McGlynn), graduate transfers (Norton and Ellingson) and a promising freshman (Robbins) into a cohesive unit that passed crisply, shot efficiently and defended aggressively against the Panthers. A long-time assistant at Creighton where he studied under the fast-paced philosophies of Dana Altman and Greg McDermott, DeVries has the Bulldogs playing an up-tempo game. In two wins against Boise State and North Dakota State heading into the Milwaukee game, the Bulldogs averaged 89 points.
Drake moves up in competition for its next game when it plays Iowa State at the Hy-Vee Classic in Des Moines on December 15. Milwaukee hopes to snap a three-game losing streak when it ventures to North Dakota on December 9.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can follow us on Facebook, or on twitter. We are looking for those interested in our basketball scout apprenticeship program. For information contact us and forward your resume.