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Drake rolls to first MVC title, reaches NCAA Tournament

Mar 9, 2008 - 11:52 PM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Drake's real challenge apparently was just getting to its conference's tournament title game.

Jonathan Cox scored 12 of his 20 points in the first half as No. 21 Drake rolled to its first Missouri Valley Conference tournament crown with a 79-49 victory over Illinois State on Sunday.

Adam Emmenecker scored 16 points and handed out six assists for the Bulldogs (28-4), who also ended a lengthy drought in the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the "Big Dance" for the first time since 1971.

"Obviously it's an understatement to say I'm proud of this team, what they've been able to accomplish not only in the regular season but after doing that to come down here to St. Louis and win on three consecutive days," Drake coach Keno Davis said. "It's quite a feat that they've been able to do, but they surprise me every day. I don't know when they're going to stop surprising me, but I don't want it to stop.

"Incredible group of young men, and they deserve all the rewards and awards they've been given."

The lopsided win wrapped up an historic MVC tournament showing for Drake, which was making its first showing in the championship game. It had dropped its previous four appearances in the semifinal.

"It's not a position that we've had a chance to be in too much over the last four years," said Emmenecker, the league's Player of the Year who was also named the tournament's MVP.

"It's really special for us as players just to see that all the work we've put in together and individually has really paid off, and that we can be a championship team, and we played so well together. I'm so proud of all these guys."

The Bulldogs also became the first No. 1 seed to win the MVC tournament since 1998. Not bad for a team that was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the league's preseason poll.

"It's an unbelievable feeling to be picked ninth in the preseason and to win the league and win this tournament," Drake guard Josh Young said. "It's hard to put into words how great it feels."

Notching a 75-67 victory over Creighton on Saturday to post consecutive wins for the first time in the 32-year history of the MVC tournament, the Bulldogs had no problems continuing their momentum.

A layup by Cox gave Drake an 18-13 lead with 8:54 remaining in the first half before Illinois State's Boo Richardson and Osiris Eldridge made consecutive baskets to close within a point.

That was when the Bulldogs took complete control of the contest, going on a 22-2 run to build a 40-19 cushion at the break. Cox hit a 3-pointer and scored seven points during the decisive run.

"One thing we talked about as lot as a team, we know we're going to go on some runs and the other team is going to go on some runs," Emmenecker said. "We have to be able to weather the storm as much as possible and try to respond. We're able to respond with some longer runs than we normally have. When we're working that well as a team, both offensively and defensively, we can be tough to stop."

Drake continued to roll after the break, finishing 56 percent (30-of-54) from the field en route to adding to its newly established school record for wins in a season.

"Obviously a very, very disappointing day for us," Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said. "The scenario that you always - you always dread where the other team plays the perfect game and you're having one of those nights. And so it was pretty tough, pretty frustrating for us, but regardless of this afternoon, I can't be more proud of this team and all that they've done, all they've given, all they've accomplished this year. Just because we had one bad game doesn't change the way that I feel about them."

Klayton Korver, the brother of the Utah Jazz's Kyle Korver, hit two 3-pointers and scored 10 points for the Bulldogs, who finished 42 percent (10-of-24) from the arc.

Eldridge finished with 14 points for Redbirds (24-9), who absorbed their third loss against the Bulldogs this season.

    --- --- -----
    ILLINOIS ST 19 30 49
    DRAKE (21) 40 39 79 FINAL

    Mar 9 3:48 PM

    (21) DRAKE 40 HALFTIME

    Mar 9 2:45 PM
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    mrman226 Added 5 roots

    Illinois State vs. Drake(21)Mar 9 8:03 AM