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Drake Eliminated on Day One of MVC Tournament

by Matthew Stevens | March 5th, 2009

The first game of the Arch Madness has already sent a 2008 NCAA Tournament team home.

Ninth-seeded Indiana State knocked out eighth-seeded and defending Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion Drake 62-55 Thursday evening.

The Sycamores (11-20) jumped out to a 44-23 lead with 15:38 left in the second half after a three-pointer by senior forward Jay Tunnell.

“Jay is really playing well down the stretch,” Indiana State senior guard Jordan Printy said. “This is his senior year and he has been a big reason why we’ve been playing well of late.”

ISU held a 33-20 halftime advantage after Drake (17-12) had as many turnovers as field goals (7) during the first 20 minutes.

“Certainly we didn’t play good basketball in the first half really at either end,” Drake head coach Mark Phelps said. “We didn’t have enough time to complete the comeback.”

Tunnell ended the game with a team-high 18 points after starting the first half 1-of-5 from the field.

After taking over a 28-win team that earned a five-seed in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Phelps was quick to address the expectations and how difficult the transition was to not only his first season as a head coach but adapting to his new system of play as well.

“Not the easiest job, especially with the expectations of this basketball team, but I fully embraced those expectations because quite frankly I thought we could be very good as well,” Phelps said. “Our undoing throughout the season really boiled down to, you know, not being a particularly gifted passing team.”

Drake was led by a game-high 27 points from senior forward Jonathan Cox. In his final college game Cox went 10-of-16 from the field and had 18 in the second half.

The Bulldogs’ 8:39 scoring drought in the middle of the game was its second longest of the season after being blanked for nearly a nine-minute period at Missouri State on Jan. 21.

“We started the game off, I thought with good energy, good intensity and good urgency,” Phelps said. “Sometimes (a scoring drought) can take the wind out of your sail.”

After the Tunnell three-pointer, Drake went on a frantic 26-8 run over the next 13 minutes to cut the lead to 52-51 with 1:32 left. ISU made six consecutive free throws to seal its seventh win in its last eight contests.

“Our confidence is high right now,” Tunnell said. “We’re playing the best basketball of the season right now.”

Indiana State will take the court again in Friday’s quarterfinal action when they take on top-seeded UNI at 12:05 p.m.

“We beat them (earlier this season) and from that point on, I told Ben he needs to send me something for getting them going,” ISU head coach Kevin McKenna said. “They’re going to be tough for us.”

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