March 19, 2024 

Sights and sounds: Drake’s buzzer-beater in MVC Tournament title game

Bulldogs claim second straight MVC Tournament championship and NCAA bid

MOLINE, Ill. — With 2.6 seconds left on the clock and the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, Drake forward Anna Miller needed her teammates to calm her nerves in the final timeout as the Bulldogs, down by one point, had the ball and were drawing up a play.

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“I think that we all know that whoever was gonna shoot the ball, it was gonna go in, and that just speaks to the confidence that we have in each other. It just happened to be me and it happened to go in,” Miller told reporters after the game. “In the huddle, luckily I have some teammates who could talk me down. I was literally like almost going to throw up. I’m so fortunate to have them with me because they’re like, ‘calm, calm down.’”

In front of the Drake bench, guard Taylor McAulay inbounded the ball to forward Courtney Becker in the right corner. Becker fed the ball to Miller on the low block, where the 6’3 junior spun and hit a left-handed shot that bounced twice on the rim before going in as the buzzer sounded, giving Drake the dramatic 76-75 win.

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“We practice end-of-game situations regularly in practice. For us to be able to throw different things at them, these are very smart women and they’re very talented basketball players,” Drake head coach Allison Pohlman told reporters after the game. “We were able to draw up something that we’ve done before, and they had two options out of it. Taylor made an amazing read to go ahead and pass it to the corner to Courtney Becker. Courtney figured out a way to shovel it to Anna, and the rest is obviously magic that ended up happening and then in the shot went in.”

As the Drake-heavy crowd clad in blue celebrated, the team rushed from the bench to pile on Miller on the floor.

“I was right there under the basket and saw it bounce then go in; it was an overload of emotions. I was just celebrating by myself, and then I saw everybody run over to Miller, so I turned and everything brought tears of joy,” graduate forward Grace Berg told reporters after the game. “It was surreal; I’m just trying to soak it in.”

It was the second straight game that Drake had blown a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and had the game go down to the wire. In the semifinal game Saturday in-state rival University of Northern Iowa came back from 10 points and tied late in to force overtime. Drake won 92-83 in overtime, advancing to the championship game.

Drake led the majority of the title game Sunday until Missouri State’s Lacy Stokes hit a jumper to pull ahead by one point, 75-74, with 2.6 seconds left to take the lead for the first time. It would be short-lived, as Drake immediately took a timeout to advance the ball and set up their game-winning play.

“The game is always one of ebbs and flows, and I thought we stayed ridiculously resilient,” Pohlman said. “It’s never exactly what you think it’s going to be. But then when you shine, and you make some things happen and you trust everybody that you’re playing with — that’s what happened today.”

Drake junior guard Katie Dinnebier, named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, said the team’s resiliency has kept it alive all season.

“There’s been multiple games this season. In yesterday’s game against UNI, they came back and tied up and took it into overtime. We were down 14 or 15 against Murray State,” she said. “I think it’s been all season, but we just never stifled. That’s what’s so special about our team is that we know we’re gonna come out on top, and that’s how it’s been all season.”

“A common theme for our team is to just remain steady. It’s basketball; there’s ebbs and flows, teams go on runs. That’s just how basketball is; that’s how the game is played,” she continued. “For us just to remain steady and remain calm throughout the end of the game, I think that’s what really set us apart.”

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The gut check will lead Drake into the NCAA Tournament, where the team is seeded No. 12 in the Albany 2 region. It will face No. 5 Colorado at 6 p.m. CT Friday in Manhattan, Kansas. The 29-5 Bulldogs will ride their 14-game winning streak into the tournament, where they narrowly lost to No. 5 seed Louisville, 83-81, in the first round last year.

“Last year, all three of these women [Miller, Berg and Dinnebier] were a part of that exact same game when we played Louisville,” Pohlman said. “When we practiced that week, I still distinctly remember saying, ‘Are we going to go and participate or are we going to go and open some eyes and try to make a little bit of noise?’ I thought that that’s exactly what our approach was when we stepped on the floor. Yeah, we came up a little bit short, but I do think we represented ourselves extremely well. I think we’ll have a very, very hungry team. I think we’ll have a focused team, and I’m looking forward to the next few days.”

The Drake women’s basketball team poses on the court with a live dog mascot and an MVC Tournament trophy.
Drake celebrates with its mascot, Griff II, after winning its second straight Missouri Valley Tournament Championship on Sunday, March 17, 2024, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. Photo credit/MVC Athletics

Although Drake was the only MVC team to make it to the NCAA Tournament, the mid-major conference will be well-represented in this year’s postseason.

Missouri State and Belmont accepted bids to the inaugural 2024 Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament (WBIT), while UNI, Murray State, Illinois State and University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) are all headed to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).

In the first round of the WBIT, Belmont will face Ball State at 3 p.m. CT Thursday in Muncie, Indiana, and Missouri State will play Illinois at 6 p.m. CT Thursday in Champaign, Illinois. UNI, Murray State and Illinois State all received first-round byes in the WNIT, while UIC will face Southern Indiana at 7 p.m. CT Thursday in Evansville, Indiana.

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2024 MVC Women’s Basketball All-Tournament Team
Katie Dinnebier, Drake (Patty Viverito Award — Most Outstanding Player)
Anna Miller, Drake
Indya Green, Missouri State
Lacy Stokes, Missouri State
Maya McDermott, UNI

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Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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