Belmont vs. Drake was supposed to be a marquee matchup between senior guard Ben Sheppard and sophomore Tucker DeVries.
Instead, the Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer didn’t play due to an infection.
“We were just assuming that maybe he wasn't feeling good at the hotel, but it wasn't until I saw on social media that he wasn’t playing, well before the game,” head coach Casey Alexander said of DeVries.
Despite playing without their superstar, the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat.
The team handled the Bruins 79-61 to snap Belmont’s seven-game winning streak.
As ESPN visited the Curb Event Center for the first time since 2013, Drake stole the show while Belmont struggled to make perimeter shots.
Without DeVries, the 17-6 Bulldogs appeared to be an even better team.
“They've got a really veteran team and they’ve won a ton of games,” Alexander said. “Anybody who's been close to athletics has seen this story play out many, many times where a player goes down and everybody else responds, and they were awesome.”
With 12 points, point guard Roman Penn led the charge for the visitors as the Bulldogs led for the majority of the first half.
A steady inside presence of Nate Ferguson and Darnell Brodie proved to be a problem for the Bruins during the game.
Drake played with a “little bit slower tempo” in the opening 20 minutes, Alexander said.
Seniors Ben Sheppard and Keishawn Davidson both saw limited minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, hurting the Bruins offensively.
Luckily for Belmont, freshman Cade Tyson picked up the slack with an early nine points. Entering the locker room, Drake secured a 39-26 lead.
The visitors didn’t slow in the second half.
Garrett Sturtz added 12 points with Brodie scoring 13 on the inside as Drake’s lead continued to grow.
Overall, the Bulldogs led for over 35 minutes in the game.
Penn finished with 16 as their leading scorer and also dished out seven assists.
Penetration was a focal point for the Bulldogs, totaling 54 points.
On defense, Drake shut down Belmont’s 3-point shooting hopes.
Holding the Bruins to a horrid 6.3% from behind the arc, the Bulldogs were “really good on both ends of the floor,” Alexander said.
Graduate student Drew Friberg, Belmont’s top deep-range scorer, was held scoreless.
“They were determined not to get not to give us good looks. That was part of the strategy,” Alexander said. “They went over every screen, and they just kept their five men back in the paint, it just kind of became an epidemic a little bit.”
The Bruin offense picked up as the game progressed behind Sheppard who finished with 21 points, 16 of which came in the second half.
Freshman Ja’Kobi Gillespie was a performer off the bench with 15 points and five rebounds.
“We were never in a rhythm on either end. I think you’ve got to give them credit.,” Alexander said. “They guarded us tough for 40 minutes. They we never made them break from their game plan and how they were defending everything that we did.”
“We just didn't expose them enough,” Alexander added.
With the loss, Belmont falls to 16-7 and 9-3 in MVC play.
The Bruins will travel to Murray, Kentucky to face Murray State University on Feb. 1.
“I mean, we're disappointed and they're disappointed but I mean, we have to own it, evaluate it on it, and, and respond to it,” Alexander said. “Clearly we've got a lot to learn from this game, but then you also have to be able to flush it and be ready to go the next time you suit up and that's the game at Murray State on Wednesday night.”
“Nobody's going to feel sorry for us there,” Alexander said. This article was written by Landen Secrest