WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Drake won its first NCAA tournament game in exactly 50 years Thursday, overcoming two long scoring lulls to rally past Wichita State 53-52 in a First Four matchup of No. 11 seeds at Purdue’s Mackey Arena.
The Bulldogs’ last tournament win came on March 18, 1971, when they outlasted Notre Dame in overtime in a Midwest regional semifinal matchup in Wichita, Kansas. Drake finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference this season but reached its first NCAA tournament since 2008 as an at-large. Coach Darian DeVries’ team advances to face USC, the No. 6 seed in the East Region, on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
After a potential game-winning 3-pointer by Wichita State’s Alterique Gilbert fell short, Drake players and coaches saluted a group of fans standing in a corner of Mackey Arena, where a reduced capacity of 1,350 watched the First Four matchup.
“It’s been a long time, and our guys knew that,” DeVries said. “Getting the opportunity to be here was something these kids dream about, coaches we dream about it. And then to get a win for our program that hasn’t happened in 50 years, it’s really exciting. These guys have fought through so much and for them to be the ones that were able to get us one, I think is really deserving.”
Drake went 9 minutes, 56 seconds of the first half without a field goal but rallied late to trail by only a point a halftime. The Bulldogs went nearly six minutes without a point in the second half, falling behind nine at one point before charging back with five 3-pointers. They ended the game on a 22-11 run.
“We just thought the ball was sticking a little bit,” DeVries said. “We weren’t getting it side to side enough throughout the game. We wanted to get some interior touches as well, but most importantly was just getting the ball moving. And then it helped, we started knocking down a few shots to loosen it up as well.”
Drake started the season 18-0, overcoming a COVID-related pause that caused five games to be postponed, but lost two all-conference players. Star point guard Roman Penn suffered a season-ending foot injury Feb. 21, and forward ShanQuan “Tank” Hemphill, the Missouri Valley Newcomer of the Year, broke his foot Feb. 10. Hemphill underwent surgery and made his first appearance since the injury Thursday night, scoring three points and grabbing four rebounds in 10 minutes.
Sophomore guard Joseph Yesufu led Drake with 21 points on 8-of-21 shooting, logging all 40 minutes in the win.
“We got off to a great start on the year, we’re 14-0 and then we had to go through a three-week COVID pause,” DeVries said. “That was a hard thing for our guys to do and then you lose two first-team all-league guys in Roman Penn and ShanQuan Hemphill after that. We had to play 14 games in the last 33 days of the season. These guys have really had to battle and fight their way through adversity to play their way into the tournament, so this opportunity isn’t taken lightly by any of us.
“All year, they’ve battled back from deficits and today was no different.”