In a game that featured 16 lead changes, Drake University sophomore guard Joseph Yesufu’s layup in the closing seconds put the Bulldogs ahead one final time. Yesufu’s basket gave him 25 points for the game and gave the Bulldogs a 71-69 win over Missouri State University March 6 in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament, Arch Madness.
“I got excited too quick,” Yesufu said about scoring the layup with a couple seconds remaining in the game — which he called the biggest shot of his life. “When I saw 2.5 seconds [on the clock], I tried to hurry up and get back [on defense] so they wouldn’t get another bucket on us.”
The nearly buzzer-beating win put No. 2-seeded Drake in the championship game against No. 1-seeded Loyola, set for March 7 at 1 p.m.
“It’s devastating going out that way,” Missouri State junior guard Keaton Hervey said about losing on a last-second layup. “It’s definitely not what we envisioned, but at the end of the day we have a close group and we’re going to stay solid and find a way through this and make the best of it.”
Drake started the game off fast with a 6-0 run — which would be the largest lead for either team in the entire game. Missouri State rallied back, and both teams would trade the lead until the final seconds of the second half.
The Bulldogs came in on fresh legs. Drake advanced to the semifinals without playing after the University of Northern Iowa was eliminated due to a positive COVID-19 test in its Tier I personnel. Drake was without leading scorers redshirt junior guard Roman Penn and senior forward ShanQuan Hemphill, who are both sidelined with injuries and won’t play in the championship game.
“[Hemphill] wants to play in the postseason, and obviously this is the postseason, but we didn’t want to risk him playing tomorrow and take any kind of step back,” Drake head coach Darian DeVries said about the decision to not play Hemphill at all in the MVC Tournament.
Down its two leading scorers, Drake relied on MVC Newcomer of the Year Yesufu and redshirt senior guard Tremell Murphy to guide the team to victory.
Yesufu’s 25 points led the Bulldogs, and Murphy wasn’t far behind with 20. While Yesufu scored more points, it took him 23 shots to get there, while Murphy went 8-for-10 from the field. Despite two players scoring over 20 points, Drake struggled with shooting, knocking down 43.1 percent overall and only 18.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Missouri State didn’t fare much better from the field, shooting 45.8 percent. But the Bears were much more efficient from three-point range than the Bulldogs, connecting on 42.9 percent of their shots. The Bears were led by senior forward Gaige Prim who posted a double-double consisting of 19 points and 15 rebounds.
The NCAA announced an extra year of eligibility for all winter sport student-athletes earlier this year. Missouri State head coach Dana Ford said he expects his entire roster to come back next season, including Prim and senior guard Spencer Brown utilizing the added eligibility.
“I haven’t had any end-of-year meetings, so I really wouldn’t know, but I would anticipate that [everyone returns],” Ford said. “Gaige is coming back. Spencer Brown is a senior, those are the only two seniors we had.”
Hervey and junior guard Demarcus Sharp added 18 points and 16 points, respectively. Hervey was highly efficient, shooting 4-for-5 from three-point territory.
Both teams limited turnovers. Drake had a season-low two turnovers, while Missouri State turned the ball over nine times. The Bulldogs managed 14 points following a Bears’ turnover, while Missouri State wasn’t able to score directly following either of Drake’s turnovers.
Despite junior forward Darnell Brodie grabbing 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs, the Bears out-rebounded Drake 38-32. This is uncharacteristic for the Bulldogs as they led the MVC in rebounding margin during the regular season. On average, the Bulldogs grabbed 5.8 more rebounds per game than their opponents.
This could mean trouble for the Bulldogs against Loyola March 7 as the Ramblers have outrebounded both opponents they’ve played this weekend.
Looking at the history between the final two teams, Drake and Loyola split the series during the regular season. The Ramblers took the first game solidly 81-54 Feb. 13, but Drake won 51-50 in overtime Feb. 14 — marking the Ramblers’ second of only two losses in conference play this season. The Bulldogs were without Hemphill in both matchups with the Ramblers, but Penn was healthy for both games.
While Yesufu averaged just 6.5 points per contest in the two-game series against Loyola, he’s scored at least 20 points in five of the Bulldogs’ six games since — including eclipsing 30 points twice.
With the 1 p.m. championship game roughly 20 hours after the final buzzer between Drake and Missouri State, the Bulldogs will have a quick turnaround. Yesufu and junior guard Garrett Sturtz each logged 40 minutes. In Loyola’s semifinal game, redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris was the only Rambler to play more than 32 minutes.
“There’s pressure every game, but tomorrow is gonna be a big game,” Murphy said. “I think the guys are ready for it, coaches are ready for it. We’ve prepared for this game.”
The March 7 championship game between the Ramblers and Bulldogs is set to be broadcast on CBS Sports at 1 p.m.