DES MOINES – Drake has managed to be both dangerous and underwhelming this season.
It only makes sense for these Bulldogs that they would manage to knock off their first ranked opponent in five years – and still finish the night below .500
Richard Carter scored 20 points and Ben Simons added 13 as the Bulldogs (9-10, 3-5 Missouri Valley Conference) beat No. 17 Creighton 74-69 on Wednesday night.
Drake blew a 16-point lead before rallying for their first win over a Top 25 team since beating Butler in 2008, the season they last won the Valley title.
“It was obviously a great game for us. Extremely proud of our team,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said. “We’ve had a couple of rough spots so far this season, and they showed great resilience and toughness and togetherness to bounce back and win a big game for us at home.”
The Bulldogs led 44-28 at halftime. With Creighton star Doug McDermott fighting the flu, Drake looked set to cruise to victory.
Creighton (17-3, 6-2) still earned a shot to win it at the end.
Grant Gibbs brought Creighton within 71-69 with 32 seconds left, and the Bluejays got the ball back on a steal. But Gibbs missed an easy layup over the shorter Carter, and Simons sealed the win with two free throws with 0.5 seconds left.
“They took our best shot in the second half and were still able to execute down the stretch,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said
Doug McDermott had 19 points to lead Creighton, which shot just 24 percent from 3-point range. But McDermott had two points in the second half and didn’t touch the ball on Creighton’s last two possessions.
“He got sick at halftime. That’s what happened,” Greg McDermott said. “We tried to get as much out of him as we could in the second half.’
Four days after losing by three points to No. 20 Wichita State, the Bluejays opened with perhaps their worst half of the season.
Drake’s substantial lead didn’t last long, though.
Will Artino’s dunk off an alley-oop pass preceded two layups by Gibbs that brought Creighton within 53-51 with 12:03 left. Creighton finally retook the lead, 62-61, with 7:10 to go on McDermott’s only basket of the second half.
It seemed like the Bluejays would simply keep rolling behind a resurgent McDermott. But nobody but the Bluejays knew just how sick McDermott really was – and Drake showed surprising toughness after Creighton’s rally.
Gibbs added 18 points for the Bluejays, who outscored Drake 41-30 in the second half but couldn’t get it done in the final minutes.
“We knew the first thing we had to do was come in and stay right with them to start the game,” Simons said. “We did that, and give Creighton credit because they battled back just like I knew they were going to. We just made a few more plays than them in the end.”
Creighton pounded Drake by 30 points in their meeting in Omaha two weeks ago.
The Bulldogs seemed intent on returning the favor in the first half alone.
Consecutive 3s by Carter gave the Bulldogs a 25-20 lead, riling up a home gym that was much more packed than it usually is. With everyone but McDermott struggling for Creighton, Drake pushed its lead to 41-28 on a layup by Seth VanDeest.
McDermott then got called for a sloppy travel under the basket, and Chris Hines drilled a 3 from the elbow that put the Bulldogs ahead 44-28 at halftime.
It was a stunning turnaround from what happened in Omaha and what happened to Drake the last time out. The Bulldogs got pounded 85-55 by Northern Iowa just three days earlier – and responded with perhaps their biggest win under Phelps.
“It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you react to what happens,” Phelps said. “We’ve had some things not go well, but we’ve really felt like if we had everybody play the way they’re capable of and play their roles we can be a good team.”