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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Drake barely hopped off the NCAA men's basketball tournament bubble Sunday, then entered the tournament's 68-team COVID-19 bubble in Indianapolis this week, and then its bubble looked frozen Thursday night.
The Bulldogs were the last at-large team to get into this year's tourney according to the seeding document the NCAA's tournament selection committee released Sunday. They were so cold for so long in both halves Thursday at Mackey Arena. But they warmed to the occasion when it mattered most.
In the last eight minutes, Drake played like the 26-4 team it is in rallying for a 53-52 NCAA First Four win over Wichita State. The 11th-seed Bulldogs will face No. 6-seed USC in Indianapolis Saturday at 3:30 p.m., after getting their program's first NCAA win in exactly 50 years.
Drake beat Notre Dame 79-72 in overtime on March 18, 1971. In Wichita, coincidentally.
'It's been a long time and our guys knew that,' Drake Coach Darian DeVries said.
'It's really exciting. These guys have fought through so much.'
This isn't the same Drake team that had such a marvelous regular season. On Feb. 10, team leading-scorer Tank Hemphill broke a foot. Eleven days later, terrific point guard Roman Penn did the same thing.
Hemphill competed Thursday for the first time since his foot surgery. He played 10 minutes, less than two of them after halftime. His status for Saturday is uncertain.
When the Bulldogs had missed 10 straight shots and went 9:56 without a field goal in the first half, teams like Louisville, Memphis and Saint Louis may have wondered why they were sitting outside the NCAA bubble while Drake had hotel rooms in downtown Indianapolis.
Drake scored the final nine points of the first half, though, to pull within 21-20. That spree included a poster dunk in transition by 6-foot guard Joseph Yesufu over the Shockers' 6-7 Clarence Jackson. Look for it in CBS' 'One Shining Moment' montage after the April 5 national-title game.
JOSEPH YESUFU. MONSTER SLAM. March 18, 2021
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness)
'Honestly, I didn't know where the ball went,' Yesufu said. 'I thought I missed it at first, but everybody started cheering so I figured it went in. That was a very great moment. It pumped us up as a team and energized us.'
After Drake had a second-half drought of 6:56 and fell behind 32-23 with 13 minutes left, Yesufu scored 14 of his 21 points.
He and senior guard Tremell Murphy made two 3-pointers each down the stretch. Junior center Darnell Brodie, stymied most of the game at both ends of the court against Wichita State's Morris Udeze, hit two shots in the last 4:15.
Yesufu made two free throws with 21 seconds left for a 53-49 Drake lead, got a rebound off a Shocker miss, turned the ball over, and saw Dexter Dennis can a 3-pointer with :08 left to make it 53-52.
Yesumu was fouled and missed the front of the 1-and-1. Alterique Gilbert of Wichita State fired a deep a 3-pointer for the win. It hit the front of the rim and bounced back.
SURVIVE AND ADVANCE! March 19, 2021
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness)
Drake will square off with USC in the First Round after beating Wichita State in a thriller!
'Perseverance,' Yesufu said about the Bulldogs surviving after shooting under 30 percent in the game's first 28 minutes.
'We've been doing that all year. The biggest word is perseverance with us.'
'Defense' was a bigger word. 'Just keep guarding,' DeVries said he told his players. They listened.
Drake's D.J. Wilkins stifled Wichita State guard Tyson Etienne, who was held to one point after arriving with a 17-point average. His team made just 33.9 percent of its field goals and was 3-of-18 from deep.
What a week for the Bulldogs. Sunday was their first entry into the NCAAs since 2008. Wednesday was the news DeVries agreed to an eight-year extension through 2028-29. Keno Davis left for Providence after that 2007-08 NCAA season, his only one there. Niko Medved left for Colorado State after a 17-17 season that exceeded expectations in his first year at Drake.
DeVries is 70-28 through three seasons. He's staying. So is his team, in the NCAA tournament.
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