“If you watched these guys play in November and December… and now you’re watching the way they’ve played in the last month, that turnaround is one of the better stories I think in college basketball this year to this point.”
That is what Northern Iowa head basketball coach Ben Jacobson had to say about the performance of the Drake Bulldogs over the course of the last two months of action for the team.
In the time following Drake’s 1-7 start and Ray Giacoletti’s subsequent resignation as head coach, the Bulldogs have gone 6-8.
Not exactly lighting the world on fire right?
The difference in the play of the Bulldogs however, is not negligible.
When Drake welcomed Loyola (Chicago) to the Knapp Center for the Missouri Valley Conference opener, the Bulldogs grabbed a large lead, fended off a late run and started MVC play 1-0.
That game set the tone for how the Bulldogs have played since.
Saturday’s 71-63 loss to the Panthers was hotly-contested throughout.
As for Jacobson’s kind words, coming from a coach whose team seems to have figured out solutions to its early season slump, his words were welcome with hesitation by Drake interim head coach Jeff Rutter.
“I appreciate him saying that. Our staff is incredibly, incredibly proud of our guys,” Rutter said. “As their confidence has grown, it has been so fun to watch them make plays out there on the floor for each other for themselves, winning plays, crunch-time plays…I’d like to speak for these guys as well (players) we’re just kind of in our own little bubble…just trying to get better, enjoying the experience, enjoying the journey. And just to be us.”
Included within the stretch since conference play started were several impressive results, including a momentous road win at Missouri State last Tuesday.
The Bulldogs also came into Saturday’s game the winners of four straight home games.
Chances are, that had a lot to do with 5,237 fans deciding to show up to the Knapp Center for Drake’s game with Northern Iowa, representing the highest attendance for a Drake home game in three seasons.
“That crowd is our plus-10 going forward,” Drake junior guard C.J. Rivers said.
While Reed Timmer has been his usual self, scoring in bunches, guys like Ore Arogundade, DeAntae McMurray and others are emerging as scorers in Drake’s quick-hitting offense.
“We want to be aggressive, we want to be on the attack. We want our opponent to be on their heels,” Rutter said.
With Drake sitting at 5-5 in MVC play, far more conference teams will look at Drake on their schedule and be on their heels.
The Bulldogs will continue to run, continue to shoot the three-ball, and get out in transition consistently.
With the likes of Wichita State and the fighting Gregg Marshall’s coming to Des Moines Wednesday, the Bulldogs will look to avenge a 25-point loss earlier this season. Drake welcomes the Shockers coming off a loss to a team that is certainly not better than the Wichita State.
“Here it’s a disappointing loss,” Rutter said. “It’s a setback, but again, you say who’s next?
And who’s next is the Wichita State Shockers.