The Evansville Purple Aces (13-18) set the Missouri Valley on fire with a 84-79 upset of the No. 2 seed Drake Bulldogs (20-10) on Friday night at Family Arena. It send the Aces into the semifinals for the first time since 2009. They won it that year, too.
"I'm really proud of my girls," said head coach Oties Epps. "They're resilient and they executed our game plan to a 'T' and they stayed consistent."
Khristian Hart led all scorers with a career high of 29 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Mallory Ladd had 22 points and seven rebounds as well for Evansville.
"When I felt like I was open," said Hart. "I took my time and patients and shot the ball. You see the ball go through the net and your confidence builds."
"Khristian [Hart] was challenged in the locker room after last game to step up and help us," said Epps. "She did that tonight.
The Aces made 17-of-38 from 3-point range, keying the upset. Both were new Valley tournament single game records. Previously held by Drake from 2010 on the attempted and Illinois State in 2004 on the made.
Caitlin Ingle hit a jumper and was fouled with 55 seconds left in regulation, hitting the free throw gave Drake the 63-61 lead. However, Sara Dickey, the sophomore leading scorer for Evansville cut into the lane, tossed up a floater to send the game into overtime with 28.2 seconds remaining.
Sasha Robinson and Kat Taylor came out in overtime, nailing back-to-back jumpers, putting Drake on their heels and Evansville up 70-65 with 4:00 remaining in overtime.
"It obviously took us too long to get into rhythm," said Drake's Becca Jones. "We got it going but that doesn't matter when you can't get stops on the other end. It's a tough pill to swallow."
The full court press continued to be a problem all game long, causing fatigue down the stretch. Careless turnovers led to more and more Aces possessions. It was almost as if the Bulldogs didn't want to win the game.
"We just kept our composure," said Ladd. "It was our game and were taking it."
A plethora of 3-point shooting Evansville found a way to equalize the uptempo, high scoring offense that is Drake. The Bulldogs came into the game, ranked 17th in the nation at 76.3 points per game, were forced out by a collapsing 2-3 zone.
Anytime the Bulldogs would try to feed it into the post, the defense of the Purple Aces were able to collapse or step into the passing lane, forcing the turnover. Evansville forced 17 turnovers in the first half, contributing to 16 points off turnovers.
After almost six minutes of no scoring, the Evansville Purple Aces finally found the stroke behind Mallory Ladd's 3-pointer. Immediately after, Khristian Hart nailed one of her own to give the Aces a 26-25 lead.
Evansville took a 28-25 lead off the 8-0 to end the half.
Drake's season is most likely going to be relegated to the NIT or the CBI. with 20 wins overall, it's going to be hard sell to keep the Bulldogs out of the NIT this season. They haven't been to the NIT since 2012 when they lost to South Dakota in the first round.
"This was a tough one for us," said Drake's head coach Jennie Baranczyk. "They had a ton of energy. I think it took us a little bit too long to get started in overtime. We didn't have our team prepared and that comes back to coaching."
Evansville is trying to do the unthinkable once again. In 2009, they shocked the Valley and the NCAA when they swept through the tournament, winning the whole thing 47-45 over Creighton. They would fall to Texas A&M Aggies in the first round of the NCAA tournament that season.