DES MOINES - The Bulldogs like their chances with the ball in Ben Simons' hands.
But with the senior forward trapped in the corner and forced into his second turnover in the final stretch, the Drake men's basketball team nearly had a victory wrestled from its grasp.
North Carolina Central couldn't cash in on the free possession as their final three 3-point attempts were off the mark and the Bulldogs escaped with a 72-69 win in non-conference play at the Knapp Center Wednesday.
Coming off a season-high 18-point performance against Iowa State, Seth VanDeest bested his total with 19 and provided two key buckets late, before Richard Carter hit a pair of free throws to help the Bulldogs hang on.
"I think a big objective for us is getting the ball to Seth," said Drake head coach Mark Phelps. "We don't do a great job of looking for him for 40 minutes. The goal is make sure he gets a look and we're getting better at that."
Trailing 65-63, Simons lost the ball on a steal by Emanuel Chapman but made amends with a trey on the ensuing possession to give the Bulldogs' a one-point edge with 2:47 to play. Simons, who added 16 points, set up VanDeest for an easy layup - the first of his final two baskets that inched the Bulldogs' lead to 70-66.
Stanton Kidd's triple brought the Eagles within one with 31 seconds left, before Simons had the ball tied up when he took an inbounds pass sandwiched between two defenders.
After Carter hit a pair from the line, Ingram's missed attempt from behind the arc got tipped out to Chapman who also couldn't connect at the buzzer. Joey King grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, the last of which followed a three-point miss from the Eagles with 16 seconds left before Carter earned a trip to the line. Ingram, who was 5-of-10 from deep, and Kidd led the Eagles with 23 points apiece.
It was the third meeting between the schools, all at the Knapp Center, though the previous two didn't pack as much drama as Wednesday's tilt. Neither team led by more than six in the second half as Gary Ricks' trey gave Drake a 53-47 cushion with 13:51 left. A dunk and layup from Kidd sparked a 12-2 run from the Eagles. Ingram punctuated the surge with a layup as the visitors held a 59-55 lead midway through the half.
Carter's triple knotted the score at 60 with 8:18 to play and the game remained a one-possession game the rest of the way. Carter finished with 13 points and five assists, but it was his defensive play that drew praise from Phelps.
"I thought his defensive intensity really picked up in the second half and was a big part of us being better on defense in the second half," said Phelps.
The Bulldogs jumped out to 22-10 advantage less than eight minutes in before North Carolina Central countered with a 11-3 flurry. The squads traded baskets the rest of the half as Drake led 41-37 at the break.
The Eagles, playing their first game in 15 days, fell to 5-5 on the season. North Carolina Central entered the contest allowing just 58.1 points per game, the 34th best average in the nation.
Drake (5-5) hosts its final game before the holiday break against Eastern Illinois Saturday at 2:05 p.m. It's the first meeting between the two programs and will be broadcast on KRNT 1350 AM.