Drake's overtime victory Saturday over Indiana State came four days after the Sycamores had upset nationally ranked Wichita State.
The win, combined with the Bulldogs' January upset of No. 16 Creighton, provides the Drake players with some positive reinforcement as they head into the stretch run.
“What those wins have done for us is confirm that we have good players, and when all those good players play up to their potential, we can be pretty good,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said. “We're still not a great team, but I think we're coming together.
“I think that we have enough pieces that when we play well, we can be pretty good.”
Phelps' team started the week tied for fifth place in the league with three other teams. He knows the reward if the Bulldogs can build on the big wins over Creighton and Indiana State would be avoiding a spot in the Thursday play-in round at the Valley tournament in St. Louis.
Drake plays four of its final seven league games at home, but the Bulldogs' three road games are against three of the Valley's top four teams — Indiana State, Wichita State and Evansville. The Bulldogs are 4-8 this season in games played away from the Knapp Center in Des Moines.
Phelps was hoping the five veterans returning to this season's team could help provide some leadership on the road.
“The expectation is for the guys that have been through the battles to lead the way,” Phelps said. “But some of those guys have been concerned with getting back to playing basketball the way they do because of health issues.
“We've challenged the older guys to give us some leadership, and they are. I think that's why we've had some recent success.”
Players of the week
Overall: Creighton forward Doug McDermott. The junior from Ames, Iowa, tied Hersey Hawkins' Valley record of six player-of-the-week honors in the same season. McDermott averaged 27 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in two wins.
Newcomer: Drake forward Joey King. The freshman from Eagan, Minn., averaged 11 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field and 3-point range in a pair of wins.
Quote of the week
Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson, who started five guards against Illinois State because swingman Desmar Jackson was late to a team function: “Right now, our starting lineup goes by responsibility and what our guys do off the floor. We have a little less than 48 hours before lineups are announced (for our next game), and that's an enormous amount of time for our guys to screw up.”
Bits and pieces
» Wichita State is stuck at 19 wins, having lost its bid to get to 20 three straight times. If the Shockers ever get No. 20, it will mark the first time in program history they have won 20 games in four straight seasons.
» Missouri State's Nathan Scheer is shooting 51.4 percent from 3-point range in the Bears' Valley games. He shot 25 percent from outside the arc in nonconference play.
» Evansville coach Marty Simmons has dismissed sophomore guard-forward Jordan Jahr from the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Jahr started five of the 20 games in which he played this season, averaging 3.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
» Defense has been the difference between Valley success and failure for Illinois State. In the Redbirds' four league wins, they have held opponents to an average of 55.8 points. In seven losses, Illinois State has surrendered an average of 75.3 points.
» Northern Iowa's Marc Sonnen has been a red-hot shooter since Jan. 1. The senior guard has made 61.5 percent of his 3-point tries in 2013, and he ranks third nationally in 3-point percentage (.483).
» Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael ranks seventh on the Valley's career blocked shots chart with 179. Only two players — Northern Iowa's Grant Stout (222) and Southern Illinois' Randal Falker (195) — have recorded more blocks than Carmichael since the start of the 1991-92 season.
— Steven Pivovar