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Joseph Yesefu scores 26, but Drake fades down the stretch against USC

The Bulldogs put up a fight, but didn’t have enough in the tank to take the Trojans to the wire

NCAA Basketball: Drake at Southern California IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it’s severe understatement, but Joseph Yesefu did not want the Drake Bulldogs to be ousted in the First Round. The sophomore guard caught fire over the last month and added another 20-plus-point outing to his resume against USC on Saturday, but the Bulldogs ran out of gas down the stretch, falling 72-56.

Yesefu shot the lights out from distance to start the game for Drake. He scored 14 of the Bulldogs’ first 18 points out of the gate, and Darian DeVries’ offense handled USC’s zone defense well; players were able to get into the paint and create their own shot, or kick it out and start moving the ball to look for an open jumper.

Much to their credit, the Bulldogs were undeterred by the Mobley brothers, Evan and Isaiah, in the middle of the Trojan defense. They were able to keep Isaiah in foul trouble for much of the first half, but stopping Evan on offense is much easier said than done. He tuned them up with 13 first-half points, though Drake was able to limit Tahj Eaddy and keep him off of the 3-point line.

Yesefu backpacked the Drake offense and finished with 18 first-half points on 6-12 shooting, missing five straight shots after starting 6-7 from the field. USC outscored the Bulldogs 14-9 in the final 7:42 to take a 40-37 lead into the break.

Drake’s leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill, who was playing in his second game since returning from foot surgery, was clearly not 100 percent Saturday. He managed to score six points in the first half, but DeVries held him out of the remainder of the game. With Yesefu and the rest of the Bulldogs showing fatigue as the second half wore on, Drake’s shooting slowly fell off as nobody was able to pitch in with any extra scoring production.

The swing point of this game was the Evan Mobley vs. Darnell Brodie matchup, and the projected top-3 pick in the NBA Draft got the best of Brodie this time around — few players can guard a 7-footer that moves as fluidly as Mobley (17 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks) while also producing offensively.

Yesefu poured his heart into this one, finishing with 26 points, five rebounds and two assists on 8-22 shooting and 6-11 from 3-point land for Drake. Brodie, Hemphill and Tremmel Murphy put up six points a piece and missed a combined 17 shot attempts.