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Drake claims first trip to MVC tournament final

Mar 9, 2008 - 3:21 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Adam Emmenecker and Drake were prepared when their run at history became threatened.

Emmenecker converted four of his 12 free throws in the closing 25 seconds as No. 21 Drake earned its first appearance in the title game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with a 75-67 victory over Creighton on Saturday.

In the 32-year history of the MVC tournament, Drake had never put together back-to-back wins until Saturday.

"Even in the Missouri Valley, we've been enjoying kind of the underdog role or the no respect, and you know, to be able to win the conference championship (would be) a great accomplishment for us," Drake coach Keno Davis said.

"Even before this tournament came, we heard a lot of people say, well, the tournament's even more open than ever, and what they were saying is, well, Drake's beatable for the most part, and that's OK. You know, they're probably right, that we might not be as dominant as some of the Southern Illinois teams or Creighton teams or anybody in the league that's been winning championships coming in, so we understand why people thought that about us."

One of three seniors for the veteran-filled Bulldogs, Emmenecker finished with 20 points as all five of the team's starters ended up in double figures. He also handed out 11 assists and grabbed five rebounds.

"It means a lot to us as individuals, going through the struggles of the last three and four years, to have so many seniors and fourth- or fifth-year players on this team that are major contributors," Emmenecker said. "It's great to see that the work we've put in over the last four and five years has paid off.

"But it's not only us. It's for our fans that have been here since, you know, 1969, you know. The fans that have been die-hard Drake fans and have went through some of the lowest lows in college basketball over that time and they've still stuck with this team. For us to put them in a position where they can look at our team and be proud of us, it's great for us and for them."

Despite the outstanding balance, Drake (27-4) saw its 10-point lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining sliced to four at 68-64 after a jumper by P'Allen Stinnett with 44 seconds left.

The Bluejays (21-10) had a golden chance to get closer, as Cavel Witter knocked the ball away from Emmenecker on the ensuing full-court press. However, the sophomore guard could not get a floater to fall. The Bulldogs' Leonard Houston rebounded the miss and was fouled, splitting two free throws for a five-point edge.

Although Witter made it 69-65 after making one of two foul shots with 29 seconds left, Emmenecker displayed the poise that enabled Drake to win eight of its 11 games decided by six points or less this season, making two from the stripe for a 71-65 cushion with 25 ticks to play.

"One of the things we talk about a lot in the locker room is we know they're going to go on runs and they're going to make some shots," Emmenecker said. "That's the reason we don't really get rattled in these games. We understand we're playing against good teams and good teams make good plays, but we have to withstand that and make runs of our own."

Emmenecker, who finished 12-of-13 from the line, and Houston then both made a pair of free throws in the closing moments to snap the Bulldogs' 0-4 showing in previous MVC tournament semifinals.

Josh Young scored 16 points and Houston finished with 14 for Drake, which also posted a school record for wins in a season, surpassing the previous mark set in 1968-69.

Klayton Korver chipped in 13 points and Jonathan Cox added 10 and 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who took a 30-21 lead at the half after holding the Bluejays to 36 percent (9-of-25) shooting.

"Well, we're really disappointed," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "There's a 10-minute stretch there in the first half where we really got to standing around and took some bad shots, didn't make shots for each other, and Drake took advantage of that."

Although Creighton cut the deficit to two points twice inside the opening five minutes, Drake did not surrender the lead, eventually pulling ahead, 41-31, on a 3-pointer by Young with 13:52 to play.

A 10-2 run by the Bluejays cut their deficit to 45-43 with 11:01 left, but Korver sandwiched two 3-pointers around a shot from the arc by Leonard Houston to make it 54-46 with 8:45 remaining.

"Defensively we made some runs at them, but we couldn't get the big stop when we needed it," Altman said. "They hit a couple big threes when we thought the momentum was going our way, and we just couldn't get it turned around."

For the game, the Bulldogs went 9-of-28 on 3-pointers, with three each coming from Korver and Emmenecker.

Stinnett finished with 18 points for Creighton, which could not rally despite shooting 47 percent (16-of-34) with five 3-pointers in the second half.

Booker Woodfox and Dane Watts had 13 points each for the Bluejays, who dropped all three meetings with the Bulldogs this season.