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Struggling Drake finds pulse under interim coach Jeff Rutter

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) Interim Drake coach Jeff Rutter has made it clear that he would like the job on a permanent basis.

His players are doing everything they can to make that happen.

The Bulldogs have undergone a remarkable transformation since Rutter took over for the embattled Ray Giacoletti back in early December. Drake (7-14, 5-4 Missouri Valley) has won six of its last 10 games under Rutter, a first-time Division I head coach after nearly three decades in the game.

It's not as though the Bulldogs have suddenly emerged as a serious threat to win the Valley. But after years of mediocrity, Drake finally appears headed in a positive direction under Rutter, even though his status for 2017-18 has yet to be determined.

''It's been easy,'' Rutter said about not letting his job status become a distraction. ''If it was five, eight, 10 years ago, I'd probably tell you it wouldn't have been so easy. But this deal has been all about the guys from the beginning. It's about these guys having a positive experience and enjoying the journey. Help these kids get better. Period.''

Rutter, known as ''Rutt'' to his players, was well known locally after stints as an assistant at Northern Iowa and Iowa State. But despite Rutter's decades of experience and his affable, player-first persona, Rutter was widely viewed as a stopgap for a program trapped in a yet another arduous rebuild.

But the Bulldogs were close to turning things around the week before Giacoletti decided the program needed a ''new voice,'' losing to DePaul and Fresno State by four points combined.

By pushing rival Iowa State for well over a half before falling 97-80, the Bulldogs began a push to reach their potential. Drake then went out and hit 17 3-pointers in a blowout win over Mississippi Valley State, and suddenly the Bulldogs found the self-assurance they had been missing.

On Tuesday, the program won its first road game in two years by outlasting Missouri State 72-71 in overtime, and the post-game celebration made it clear how much the Bulldogs enjoy playing for Rutter.

''It's a group of guys who have talent who have found some confidence,'' Rutter said. ''We felt it was only a matter of time. We felt that all along.''

Athletic director Sandy Hatfield-Clubb was out of town and unavailable for comment Thursday on Rutter's future. But with the majority of a team that has turned a corner under Rutter's leadership returning in 2017-18, he is likely in a much better position to return as well.

The Bulldogs have won five straight at home heading into Saturday's game against visiting Northern Iowa, and the players are eager to keep things rolling for them - and for their coach.

''That guy has been working his tail off in the business for 20-some years,'' forward Casey Schlatter said. ''He gets a (Division) I chance at not the most opportune time, and it's not about him. It's never been about him. And maybe that's why everything has worked out so crazy. It's unreal, and it couldn't happen to a better dude.''


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