Sports Journalism Blog

By David Hayden | @SluggySports

Sports Capital Journalism Program, IUPUI

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Precisely a half-century since their previous NCAA tournament victory, the Drake Bulldogs, led by Joseph Yesufu’s 21 points, overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to beat Wichita State 53-52 in the First Four. Drake (26-4) will meet sixth-seeded Southern California in a first-round West region matchup on Saturday.

Yesufu, who played all 40 minutes, was held to 8-of-21 shooting. His one missed free throw, in a one-and-one situation with five seconds to play, nearly led to the end of the Bulldog season. Wichita State’s last chance ended when Alterique Gilbert’s 3-point shot hit the front of the rim, and Drake survived.

Drake’s previous NCAA victory was on March 18, 1971, a 79-72 overtime victory over Notre Dame at Wichita in a Midwest Regional Semifinal.

“The last time we won in the NCAA tournament was on this exact day,” Yesufu said. “We’re very grateful.”

Drake’s victory was the school’s sixth in tournament history. The Bulldogs finished as high as third in 1969 after losing a national semifinal to eventual champion UCLA and Lew Alcindor.

“It’s been a long time, our guys knew,” said Drake coach Darian DeVries. “….To get a win for our program that hasn’t happened in 50 years – it’s really exciting.”

Yesufu, the Missouri Valley Conference Sixth Man of the Year, averaged 23.7 points per game and had made 47.2% of his 3-point shots in the previous six games.

The sophomore made key 3-pointers down the stretch in the second half to keep Drake in the ball game. Drake trailed by as many as 12 points, 37-25, with 11:24 to play. But Yesufu’s 3-pointer was part of an 11-2 run that brought the Bulldogs to within 43-42 with 6:46 to go.

Yesufu made it a point to credit his team. “It’s a collective effort,” he said, praising the defense of junior guard D.J. Wilkins and the rebounding of 6-foot-10 junior forward Darnell Brodie, who had a game-high 10 rebounds.

Drake took the lead with 4:15 left when Yesufu fed Brodie for a layup. Wichita State (16-6) held the lead for a total of 30:03, partly as a result of issues with Drake’s ball movement.

“We just thought the ball was sticking a little bit,” DeVries said. “We weren’t moving it side to side enough throughout the game. Most important thing was getting the ball moving.”

The Shockers went back ahead on a basket by Morris Udeze, who led the Shockers with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting.

But Drake senior forward Tremell Murphy, who had made 1 of 6 shots in the first half, made a 3-point jumper for a 49-47 lead with 2:22 to go.

Murphy’s 3-of-4 shooting in the second half, all behind the 3-point line, became an important part of the Drake comeback.

Yesufu said he was shocked by Murphy’s go-ahead shot. “I was so happy,” Yesufu said. “I was shocked he threw it up but so happy it went in. We just had to get a stop.”

Yesufu appeared to seal the victory by making two free throws for a 53-49 lead with 21 seconds to play. But a 3-point shot by Wichita State’s Dexter Dennis brought the Shockers within a point with eight seconds to play. Yesufu was fouled, and the missed free throw gave Wichita State one last chance. When Gilbert’s long 3-point attempt missed, Drake moved on.

“Perseverance, we’ve been doing that all year,” Yesufu said. “My biggest word is perseverance.”