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Sharpshooting Drake suddenly finds big inside game

December 21, 2012 - Andy Heintz
One of the best shooting teams in the nation may now have an inside game as well.

The Drake men’s basketball team is scoring 76 points per game, hitting 42 percent of its 3-pointers and connecting on nine triples per game. But in the last two games, 6-foot-11 center Seth VanDeest has given the Bulldogs an inside presence, averaging 18.5 points in those contests.

“We knew it would take him some time to get his rhythm and timing back. He continues to be more comfortable down there,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said of VanDeest. “That’s a big part of our offense, but he helps us on defense with his size as well.”

The Bulldogs come into their final non-conference affair of the season at 5-5 and will host Eastern Illinois (3-9) today at 2:05 p.m. Drake is 3-1 at the Knapp Center this season, but this Is the first-ever meeting against Eastern Illinois.

The Panthers, who play their home games in Charleston, Ill., run a Princeton style offense and are averaging just 56 points per game.

“Eastern Illinois runs a series of precision offenses,” Phelps said. “We’re going to have to be really alert on defense at all times. The offense is in the family of a Princeton offense and they’re one of those teams with really good skill sets and shooters.”

The Bulldogs are one of the best shooting teams in the country as their 42 percent shooting from behind the arc ranks third nationally, while their 9.1 3-point makes per game sits fifth in the nation. The 76.4 points per game also ranks in the top 50 nationally.

But if the Bulldogs can continue to score points both inside and outside, it will help them as they move forward into Missouri Valley Conference play.

Ben Simons hit four 3-pointers in the Bulldogs’ most recent game – a win against N.C. Central – and leads Drake in scoring at 16.1 points per game. VanDeest averages 12 points and nearly five rebounds per game, while Richard Carter also averages in double-figures at 10.4 points per tilt. Jordan Clarke is scoring nearly 10 points and grabbing nearly nine rebounds per contest as well.

“We want to build momentum heading into the break,” Phelps said of this final non-conference test. “We want to play well on both ends of the court, build on our last victory and be in attack mode for 40 minutes.”

Eastern Illinois, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, is guided by first-year coach Jay Spoonhour, the son of legendary coach Charlie Spoonhour. Josh Piper leads the Panthers at 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Sherman Blanford also averages nine points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. Freshman Alex Austin has scored a team-high 38 points in the last two games and has made nine of his last 15 shots from 3-point range.

The Panthers have lost five straight games. Their last win came against Houston Baptist on Nov. 24. They also are 0-4 on the road this season. Even though the Bulldogs are a bit banged up, Phelps believes the tough non-conference schedule has prepared his team for a tough Missouri Valley Conference.

“The non-conference schedule has prepared us for the league,” Phelps said. “It is the toughest it’s been since I have been here. It’ll be tough night in, night out but that is what we signed up for. I think we are ready for that.”


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