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’Dogs, Braves tip off Missouri Valley play

December 29, 2012
By TIMES-REPUBLICAN STAFF ( , Times-Republican

PEORIA, Ill. - The Bulldogs have had Bradley's number of late.

Though despite sweeping all three games against the Braves last year, the Drake men's basketball team renews their rivalry - along with opening the Missouri Valley Conference schedule - with a clean slate.

The Bulldogs meet Bradley for the 133rd time with tip-off set for 7:05 p.m. at Carver Arena Saturday. The game is being broadcast on 1350-AM KRNT in Des Moines.

"It is a new beginning in a lot of ways," Drake head coach Mark Phelps said of the MVC season debut.

"Everyone has to step their level of play up. It's a time to take what we have learned and raise our level of play, focus and intensity."

Winners in three of its last four, Drake (6-5) rides a two-game win streak including a 74-56 victory over Eastern Illinois before the holiday break. Micah Mason made his second career start in the contest and came through with a career-high 19 points on a 5-of-6 effort from deep, along with six assists.

Fact Box

Drake (6-5) at Bradley (8-4)

Tonight, 7 p.m.

At Carver Arena, Peoria, Ill.

The Bulldogs, which shot 59.1 percent from three-point range in the game and are second in the nation at 43.5 percent, will need a similar effort to accomplish what only one other team has done this season - beat Bradley (8-4) on its home floor.

The Braves are 6-1 at Carver Arena this season with their lone loss coming against then No. 3-ranked Michigan. Defending the three has been Bradley's Achilles heel as its surrendering 6.3 treys per game, ranking ninth out of 10 teams in the MVC.

Ben Simons leads Drake at 15.2 points per outing after burying three triples in the Bulldogs' last game. The senior moved up to No. 16 on the Drake career scoring ranks with 1,089 points. The Bulldogs are fourth in the country with 9.5 treys per game.

Walt Lemon, Jr. and Tyshon Pickett share the scoring load for the Braves at 12.5 points per game each, while Pickett is also hauling in 7.2 rebounds per contest. Bradley has already won more games than last season (7-25), which is just another reason why last year's sweep of the Braves has little bearing on Saturday's matchup.

"Everything is new," Phelps said.

"They have new players, we have new players. Coach (Geno) Ford is a terrific coach and has another year under his belt. I don't think it really has bearing, that we played three times last year, both of us are approaching it as a new beginning."

The Braves look to regroup from back-to-back losses against Virginia Tech and Portland. Both came down to the wire as Bradley lost to the Hokies' 66-65 in overtime before falling to the Pilots 57-55. The Braves enter the game with a decided edge on the glass (35.5-30.0) and a defense that forces 11.3 steals per game, five more than Drake.

Following Saturday's tilt, Drake returns to the Knapp Center to host Wichita State on Wednesday evening at 7:05 p.m.



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