At 3-to-1 odds, Gonzaga remains the prohibitive favorite to win the championship when a centralized NCAA Tournament tips off March 18 in Indiana. However, the spotlight is beginning to shine on the Iowa’s version of undefeated Bulldogs.
Drake is a prohibitive favorite Sunday when they host Illinois State. A win at the Knapp Center likely secures a place for the nation’s other Bulldogs in Monday’s Associated Press Top 25.
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Drake vs. Illinois State odds
Bulldogs survive midweek tests at Missouri St.
The Bulldogs will enter Sunday’s game after a week when the calendar and a calculator threatened to end their under-the-radar undefeated season.
The 13-0 Bulldogs were one of five undefeated teams left in Division I going into their road tests Tuesday and Wednesday against 9-1 Missouri State. Game announcers wondered whether Drake’s 23-day layoff due to health and safety protocols would impact their performance. Trailing 41-26 at halftime, the math didn’t look good for the undefeated team from Des Moines.
The Bulldog defense clamped down and outscored Missouri State 23-8 in the first 11 minutes of the second half en route to a 68-61 win. Coach Darian DeVries said:
“We had a first half that wasn’t ideal for us, and we knew it. Our challenge in the second half was to get back to playing with what had gotten us to this point. Our guys came out in the second half, especially defensively, with a gritty, tough effort.”
The Bears used their own comeback script a night later, with a 15-0 run in the second half to briefly take a 63-61 lead, but the Bulldogs held on for a 78-73 win.
“I looked at our group and said ‘this is what you’re built for,’” DeVries said. “Their experience and leadership coming down the stretch was going to be what determined the outcome of this game. I thought they settled down and were able to make some big-time plays to finish the game.”
Drake faces the Redbirds again Monday night in Des Moines.