Story by Taylor Soule
Photo by Morgan Cannata
UNI drained six second half 3-pointers en route to 53.8 percent shooting behind the arc. That staggering percentage coupled with 18 Bulldog turnovers lifted No. 4 Northern Iowa to 9-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference while No. 9 Drake fell to 5-10.
The Panthers extended their winning streak to four as the Bulldogs extended their losing streak to four. Drake head coach Mark Phelps cited offensive lapses and turnovers in the Drake defeat.
“We didn’t keep pace at the offensive end with them, and that was really the key in the game,” Phelps said. “We have not been a team that has taken care of the ball well enough this year, and that obviously hurt us again tonight with the 18 turnovers. Against a very good team, you can’t have 18 turnovers.”
Neither team controlled the tempo in the opening half. At the 13:15 mark, freshman guard Micah Mason drained a 3-pointer off a steal by redshirt senior forward Jordan Clarke to take a 16-12 lead.
A play later, though, Northern Iowa’s Jake Koch answered with a jumper to close the deficit at 16-14. Koch hit a 3-pointer a possession later to claim a 17-16 Panther advantage.
The in-state rivals traded buckets as time ticked away. Northern Iowa entered the locker room with a 33-32 halftime lead.
At halftime, Drake students performed a Bulldog rendition of “Harlem Shake,” a dance popularized on YouTube.
The opening minutes of the second half mirrored the first half, as neither squad dictated play.
Fifth-year senior Chris Hines knocked down a trey at 16:01 to edge UNI, 39-35. Again, though, the Panthers answered with a 3-pointer of their own to close the gap at 39-38 with 15:43 left on the clock.
The Panthers seized momentum starting at 12:57, when Marc Sonnen drowned a 3-pointer to even the score at 44 points apiece. Within five minutes, Northern Iowa netted two more treys to take a 52-46 lead.
UNI’s lead stretched to as many as 11 as the half ticked away. Though a late scoring spree by Mason narrowed the Panther lead to 63-57 with 38 seconds left, Bulldog fans exited early as Drake fouled.
Sonnen and Anthony James led the Panthers with 17 points apiece.
Four Bulldogs reached double figures in scoring. Hines led the way with 18 points. Clarke finished with 13 points. Mason and redshirt junior center Seth VanDeest each contributed 10 points.
With the Missouri Valley Conference Championship just weeks away, the young Bulldogs will have to mature quickly.
“We just have to take care of the ball better,” Phelps said. “The turnovers are not of any one particular variety. We’ve had some travels. We’ve had the opponent get steals. It’s not something that we have been good at this year.
“We have, obviously, the majority of our ball handling authorities taken by two new guys, one in (junior guard) Richard Carter and one in Micah Mason, and they lack the experience of playing in this league at high levels, but, I think, overall, everybody kind of contributes.”
Though inexperience has contributed to the Bulldogs’ turnover problem, Phelps stressed the entire team’s role in Drake’s shaky ball handling.
“It has been an equal opportunity turnover problem for our team,” Phelps said.
Besides the turnovers, Hines noted the Bulldogs’ struggle to score inside in the second half.
“We needed to get the ball in the paint more,” Hines said. “If we had done that, it would have helped a lot of other things.”
Though several factors contributed to a fourth consecutive Valley loss, VanDeest praised the Bulldogs’ effort on Saturday.
“I think we put forth a good effort,” VanDeest said. “It’s just the little things we have to change.”
The Bulldogs return to the Knapp at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday against MVC rival Bradley.