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Drake turns back Redbirds, 65-54

Becca Hittner

MOLINE, Ill. — The Drake women’s basketball team endured a rough shooting day, but for the 13th time in as many performances like it this season, the Bulldogs found a way.

Top-seeded Drake rallied behind a 16-3 scoring surge to end the third quarter en route to a 65-54 victory over No. 4 Illinois State in Saturday’s semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

The Bulldogs (27-5) shot just 36 percent from the field, but got hot enough during the third period to take the lead for good. Trailing 37-31 with 3:44 remaining, Drake rattled off 14 points in a row and 16 of 19 to close the quarter with a 47-40 lead that never again dwindled below four.

Two-time MVC Player of the Year Becca Hittner scored 16 of her game-high 22 points in the second half, though only three free throws during the deciding three-minute spurt. Maddy Dean knocked down a 3-pointer to start the comeback, Sammie Bachrodt added one of her own and the Bulldogs eventually found their flow and earned their way back to the Valley title game for the third-straight season.

“I think we just got back to us, and we really just loosened up and started having fun,” said Drake junior forward Sara Rhine. “I think we had moments of having fun before it got to the start of the fourth quarter, but then we were all where we needed to be and really just smooth in what we were doing and playing off of one another and making it really easy.”

Rhine, the team’s second-leading scorer, contributed just two points to the Bulldogs’ big run, exemplifying what head coach Jennie Baranczyk thought was the difference in the game.

“I think we have great depth on this team and we have great experience on this team so we don’t panic, we stay really steady,” she said, “and as the game goes on we want to get closer as a group and we want to be able to keep the pace and tempo, and that’s when we’re at our best.”

Hittner finished 11-for-12 at the free-throw line while Drake was 19-for-24 at the charity stripe, which proved to be a deciding factor as well. Illinois State’s leading scorer Simone Goods got her third and fourth personal fouls in a span of 8 seconds in the third quarter prior to the Bulldogs making their march to the lead.

Goods finished with just two points in only 15 minutes of court time.

“Obviously it wasn’t necessarily our best offensive performance by any means, but you’ve got to credit Illinois State to some of that,” said Baranczyk, “and at the same time I’m really proud of the resiliency this group had. I think they did a great job in terms of at halftime really resetting themselves and just playing.”

Rhine racked up her 12th double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Dean and Bachrodt both contributed eight points. Bachrodt also had seven assists, five rebounds and three steals, becoming the school’s all-time steals leader in the process. With 275 career steals, she passes former Bulldog Kay Riek’s previous record of 274 that had stood since 1984, and passes Drake assistant coach Allison (Starr) Pohlman for 16th on the all-time MVC chart.

Tete Maggett led Illinois State (19-12) with 21 points and Lexi Wallen added 13 off the bench for the Redbirds, who have lost 12-straight to Drake.

The Bulldogs shot 36 percent or poorer for the 13th time this season, but improved to 13-0 in those instances thanks to Saturday’s performance at the other end of the court. Illinois State shot just 29.2 percent from the field (19-for-65) and shot 13 fewer free throws than the Bulldogs.

“We do a great job of staying steady and composed,” said Baranczyk. “It’s kind of an amazing thing to be able to watch our team do that, yet at the same time we got a little bit tight in the first quarter and when shots weren’t falling we kind of got back on our heels a bit.

“You knew once we could loosen up and get the ball in the hole, some of that good stuff would continue to happen.”

Drake takes a 12-game winning streak into today’s 2:02 p.m. championship game against second-seeded Missouri State (22-9), which defeated No. 3 Northern Iowa 89-64 in Saturday’s second semifinal. The Bears represent the only Valley opponent to defeat the Bulldogs in their last 66 games against conference competition, winning 85-79 in Des Moines on Feb. 1. Drake got even, 70-61, in their second meeting of the season on March 3 in Springfield, Mo.

Today’s title game carries with it an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

“It doesn’t get old, ever,” said Baranczyk of reaching the MVC championship game. “The feeling you have going into every game and especially when it’s in March, there’s just no better feeling.”

Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament

At The TaxSlayer Center, Moline, Ill.

First Round

Thursday, March 14

Valparaiso 79, Indiana St. 77

Loyola 90, Evansville 80

Quarterfinals

Friday, March 15

Drake 86, Valparaiso 58

Illinois St. 61, Bradley 55

Missouri St. 59, Loyola 50

Northern Iowa 66, Southern Illinois 63

Semifinals

Saturday, March 16

Drake 65, Illinois St. 54

Missouri St. 89, Northern Iowa 64

Championship

Sunday, March 17

No. 1 Drake (27-5) vs. No. 2 Missouri St. (22-9), 2:02 p.m. (ESPN+)

——

No. 21 DRAKE 65, ILLINOIS ST. 54

At Moline, Ill.

ILLINOIS ST. (19-12) — Goods 1-7 0-0 2, Beck 2-9 0-0 5, Livingston 1-3 1-2 4, Maggett 7-23 2-2 21, Saylor 0-3 2-2 2, Koudelka 3-10 1-1 7, Talbot 0-1 0-0 0, Wallen 5-7 3-4 13, Corrigan 0-0 0-0 0, Gietzel 0-0 0-0 0, Newland 0-2 0-0 0. TOTALS 19-65 9-11 54.

DRAKE (27-5) — Rhine 5-12 4-6 15, Bachrodt 3-5 0-0 8, Dean 2-7 2-2 8, Hittner 4-9 11-12 22, Monahan 1-2 0-0 2, Burich 0-1 0-0 0, Jonas 0-2 0-0 0, Mertz 0-0 0-0 0, Wooldridge 0-0 0-0 0, Fuller 1-3 0-0 2, Miller 1-6 1-2 4, Negaard 0-0 0-0 0, Rose 1-3 1-2 4. TOTALS 18-50 19-24 65.

Illinois St. 14 12 14 14 — 54

Drake 15 11 21 18 — 65

3-Point Goals–Illinois St. 7-22 (Beck 1-2, Livingston 1-2, Maggett 5-15, Saylor 0-1, Newland 0-2), Drake 10-25 (Rhine 1-3, Bachrodt 2-4, Dean 2-4, Hittner 3-5, Fuller 0-1, Miller 1-5, Rose 1-3). Assists–Illinois St. 11 (Beck 3), Drake 17 (Bachrodt 7). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Illinois St. 38 (Maggett 6), Drake 40 (Rhine 11). Total Fouls–Illinois St. 20, Drake 15.