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GAME NOTES: The Drake Bulldogs return home Wednesday with a chance to get over .500 in the Missouri Valley Conference as league foe Southern Illinois comes to town for a tussle at the Knapp Center.
Drake stepped out of conference play this past weekend and was dealt a 71-55 loss at New Mexico State. The Bulldogs struggled to find a rhythm early and found themselves down 14 at the half. The Aggies were able to hold Drake to 34.0 percent shooting and won the rebounding battle, 40-31, as the Bulldogs saw their brief two-game winning streak come to an end. Rayvonte Rice led the visitors with 18 points while Aaron Hawley netted 14 and grabbed six boards. Drake stands at 8-8 in the MVC with two games remaining.
Southern Illinois wilted under a barrage of three-point shooting Saturday at Ball State, losing the non-conference encounter by way of a 71-62 final. The Salukis were essentially done in by an early 24-2 run by the Cardinals, who buried 10-of-20 from beyond the arc overall. SIU was able to battle back in the second half but it wasn't enough despite a steady 26-point, 11-rebound performance from Mamadou Seck. Overall, the Salukis shot just 40.7 percent from the floor and were 6-for-20 on three-point attempts. Kendal Brown-Surles had four of those en route to 12 points as SIU suffered its fourth straight loss and sixth in seven games overall.
Drake has dominated this series of late, winning six straight and eight of the last 10 overall versus SIU. However, the Salukis own a 19-18 edge in games played in Des Moines and lead the overall series by a 51-27 margin. The Bulldogs have captured the last two encounters at the Knapp Center.
The Salukis are led by the senior Seck, who puts up 12.9 ppg and brings down 7.7 rebounds per game. His 49.6 shooting percentage stands second to only Dantiel Daniels (57.9 percent) on the roster, though he remains the lone double-digit scoring option for the Salukis. Daniels averages 8.9 ppg and adds 4.9 rpg while Jeff Early puts up 8.4 ppg. Overall, Southern Illinois sits near the bottom of the league in nearly every major offensive category, mustering a mere 63.2 ppg on 41.8 percent shooting. The only free-throw percentage worse than Drake's is the Salukis' 63.3 percent accuracy. The defense allows 69.1 ppg on a crisp 46.6 percent accuracy, giving SIU the MVC's second-worst scoring margin at minus-5.9.
The Bulldogs have two of the league's most explosive scorers in Rice and Ben Simons, who average 16.4 and 16.1 points per game, respectively, for an otherwise unspectacular offense. The Bulldogs' biggest problem is depth with the scoring options sliding steeply away from there as Kurt Alexander (8.1 ppg) remains the next best option. That imbalance has been further exploited with the loss of Simons to illness. Hawley has stepped into the starting lineup in his place and now averages 7.1 ppg. Drake finds itself in the middle of the MVC pack in terms of scoring, currently at 67.1 ppg. The Bulldogs do shoot an above average percentage from the field at 44.4 percent but the defense often suffers in allowing 66.9 ppg on 43.1 percent shooting. Not helping matters is the Bulldogs' 63.8 shooting percentage from the foul line -- second-worst in the conference. On the boards, Drake has a slight disadvantage in securing 32.6 per game to opponents' 34.1. Jordan Clarke paces the Bulldogs with 6.8 rpg while Rice adds 5.6 per contest.
Drake remains in a logjam alongside five other MVC teams within a game of each other, With a chance to improve their seeding for the conference tourney. the Bulldogs need wins the rest of the way.
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