DES MOINES, Iowa -The going on the road continued to be rough for Illinois State's basketball team Tuesday night at The Knapp Center. The Redbirds fought back from a 17-point deficit midway through the second half, only to come up short in a 45-41 Missouri Valley Conference loss to Drake before 3,014 people.
"We were down 17 and we kept on guarding and kept on guarding and crawled back in it and had a chance to win it," said ISU coach Porter Moser. "We really turned it up on defense and got back in it. We have to build on that.
"It's hard to see the positive because people see the score as the bottom line, but these kids hung on every word we said in the scouting report and in the huddle during the timeout when we were down 17. They never quit."
The Redbirds limited Drake to a school-record four field goals on 21 attempts in the second half and only one over the final 14:17. The Bulldogs went 6:54 without scoring a point and 11:36 without making a basket.
During that stretch, ISU outscored the hosts, 16-1, to cut a 39-22 deficit to 40-38 with 4:05 remaining on Neil Plank's rebound bucket. The Redbirds found themselves with the 17-point deficit by scoring only two points in the first nine minutes of the half, while Drake had a dozen.
"We started the second half again where we felt like there was a lid on top of the goal," said Moser. "We couldn't get our shots to go down and we had good shots. We had our opportunities. We were attacking, but we couldn't get our shots to fall."
After Plank's basket drew the Redbirds within two, Roberto Fortes had a chance to give ISU the lead but his 3-point attempt rimmed off at the 3:50 mark. Drake's Al Stewart was fouled and made the second of two free throws to give Drake a 41-38 advantage.
The Bulldogs then got their only basket in the final 14:17 when no one checked Ajay Calvin off the boards and he rammed home an uncontested, two-hand jam off a missed shot with 2:41 left.
Levi Dyer trimmed the Drake lead to 43-41 with a 3-point basket at the 1:14 mark. The Redbirds then got the ball back with 32 seconds remaining when Stewart lost it in traffic while trying to find an open man with the shot clock winding down.
ISU worked the ball around before Moser called his last timeout with 17 seconds remaining.
"Normally I don't like to call a timeout in that situation and let the defense get set, but we didn't look very steady at that point," said Moser. "We had looked for a couple of things and they weren't there, so I called the timeout."
Drake, which had a foul to give before putting ISU in the bonus situation, gave it with seven seconds to go. That gave the Redbirds the ball out of bounds on the baseline just to the right of the basket.
Plank looked for a couple of options, but didn't find one open and tried to lob a pass to Dilligard. Drake's Brent Heemskerk, who was fronting Dilligard, was able to intercept the pass.
"I knew they were going to Dilligard, but I didn't know if it would be right off the inbounds pass or if they would get (the ball) in and then look in to him," said Heemskerk. "I expected them to go inside. I don't think the initial look was going to him, but things broke down for them.
"As it got a little later (in the five-seconds count), I sensed he was getting worried. His initial looks weren't open, so he seemed to scramble and just threw it up and I was there. Had he thrown it more towards the backcourt area, it might have had a chance."
Moser said the play was designed for Plank to throw the ball inbounds, then get it right back for a 3-point attempt.
"Drake defended it well," said Moser. "The screens (we set) were kind of sloppy and outr execution was kind of sloppy. I'll take that hit on myself."
Plank admitted he didn't see anyone open initially, so he tried to get the ball to Dilligard.
"He's our best athlete, so I just threw it up for him to go get it," said Plank. "I just didn't throw it high enough. I knew the count was going down. Seven seconds is a lot of time. I knew if he caught the ball he would try and create something or maybe a draw a foul."
Heemskerk got the ball to Stewart, who was immediately fouled with 3.4 seconds remaining. He made both free throws to secure the victory.
The loss was the fourth straight for ISU to drop its record to 8-14 overall and 3-11 in the Valley. It also marked the 10th straight on the road without a win this season; the 12th straight on an opponent's floor dating back to last season.
The Redbirds also have lost 13 straight Valley road games.
Drake, which snapped a five-game losing streak, improved to 12-13 overall and 5-9 in the league. Aliou Keita, Chaun Brooks and Stewart paced the Bulldogs with eight points each. Calvin had eight rebounds.
"I was wary of Illinois State coming in, so I'm glad to get a win," said Drake coach Tom Davis.
The Bulldogs finished shooting 35.7 from the field, while ISU admitted to 32 percent after making only 29 percent the first half to fall behind 27-20.
The Redbirds started the game making only 3 of their first 19 shots and missing their first 11 attempts from 3-point range. They finished 5 for 25 behind the arc. They didn't score a basket until Dana Ford broke the ice at the 15:22 mark.
Drake used a 14-0 run to gain a 17-5 lead as ISU went 4:32 without a point and 6:28 without a field goal. The Bulldogs' largest lead was 13 at 19-6 before Dilligard scored a basket for ISU.
Dilligard led ISU with 12 points and eight rebounds. The Redbirds were outrebound, 37-34, but only committed 10 turnovers against Drake's pressing defense.