ST. LOUIS (DU) — Junior Gary Ricks, Jr. came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points with five rebounds to lead the Drake men’s basketball team to an 81-66 win over Bradley in the opening round of the 2013 MVC Tournament Thursday night at the Scottrade Center.
Senior Chris Hines led the No. 9 seeded Bulldogs in scoring with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting and four three-pointers in 31 minutes of play. Hines and Ricks Jr. each nailed four three-pointers to combine for eight of the team’s 12 three-pointers.
“When you’re a good shooter and not making shots, you need to continue to hear you’re a good shooter, believe that you’re a good shooter and act like you’re a good shooter,” Drake head coach Mark Phelps said of Ricks’ night. “All season long he’s acted like a good shooter and tonight the shots started to fall for him. Everyone has confidence in him as a shooter.”
With the win the Bulldogs move to 15-16 on the season and claim the season series against Bradley, 2-1. They advance to face MVC champion Creighton at 12:05 p.m. on Friday. The two teams split the season series, each winning at home.
Drake was able to shoot 50 percent from the field at 27-of-54 and 40 percent from behind the arc (12-of-30) on the night. The team also made 15-of-18 free throws, including eight in a row to end the game. The Braves made 42 percent of their 61 shots in the loss with Jake Eastman and Will Egolf scoring a team-high 15 points.
The Bulldogs found an advantage through their depth, outscoring the Braves 37-9 in bench points. Along with Ricks’ 14 points, freshman Joey King had a big night with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. After missing his first two shots, King scored 10 points in the first half to help the Bulldogs jump out to a 41-32 lead at halftime.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve put a lot of work into our game and we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” King said. “We’ve won four out of five and after a hiccup against Southern Illinois, we just wanted to get back on the right track and play well tonight.”
After struggling to score in the first few minutes Drake began to hit from the outside. Great spacing and ball movement led to open looks outside and well as a open lay-ins.
The Bulldogs spent a good amount of time without veteran big men Seth VanDeest and Jordan Clarke due to foul trouble. Phelps opted to open the floor and creative a versatile attack with redshirt-sophomore Jeremy Jeffers and King at the posts.
After leading for most of the half, Hines hit a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 41-24 with 1:12 to play in the first half. Two Drake turnovers allowed Bradley to score five consecutive points to end the half and close the gap to nine, 41-32.
In the second half the two teams traded baskets and runs to keep the Drake lead alive for most of the half. The Braves’ Eastman scored eight points in a row to cut the lead to 48-42 at 16:04. Hines then controlled the game for a large stretch, matching the opponent’s baskets with tough drives and finishes.
Two Bradley three-pointers by Jalen Crawford cut the Drake led to five and later three, 58-55 at the 12-minute mark. Ricks Jr. stepped up to the challenge as he had all game, nailing a three and regaining a comfortable lead for the Bulldogs.
“I’m really proud of our players for hanging tough,” Phelps said. “We knew we’d have to deal with some adversity through the game and Bradley cut the lead to three in the second half, but we had contributions from all nine guys. We felt throughout the year, we were a team with some depth so it was nice to see that in action tonight.”
With 6:33 to play the Braves had again cut the lead to three, 62-59. King scored four of his second half points and after a shooting foul, the Braves’ Tyshon Pickett was called for a technical foul, his fifth of the game to give the Bulldogs four free throws and the ball. Simons hit two free throws and Hines poured in another three to extend the led to 14, 73-59 with 3:43 to go. The teams would trade baskets and until Drake finally ran the clock out.
“It was a total team effort,” Phelps said. “We needed it all tonight. I thought we played well on offense and a key to this game was to limit turnovers and we were successful in that and that’s a large part of the win.”
The Bulldogs committed just eight turnovers, their second fewest of the season, with 15 assists as eight of the nine players in the rotation recorded an assist.
“The guys are excited to be here and feel good about the way they’re playing,” Drake head coach Mark Phelps said. “I feel like we’re playing our best basketball at the right time. Everyone that goes in the game has confidence in their teammates and coaches.”
Tip for today’s game against Creighton is set for noon and will be available on Fox Sports Midwest and on the radio in Des Moines on KRNT 1350-AM.