BY ADAM ROGAN
The Drake Men’s Basketball team has been a much stronger team at home (4-7) than away from it (2-11) this season, and it looked to use a packed Knapp Center to their advantage holding one of its the biggest crowds of the season with 4,724 in attendance. The Bulldogs won their last game at home, an 80-70 triumph over Bradley, and had hoped that the good vibes from that game would translate into Saturday’s matchup with the University of Northern Iowa Panthers, a much tougher opponent.
Unfortunately for Drake, last week’s win didn’t prove to be an impetus and the Bulldogs were picked apart by the UNI offense on the way to a 66-82 loss.
Drake came out of the gate on the attack, displaying an offense that looked to control the pace of play in the early going.
Drake’s first two possessions ended with points, the next two ended in turnovers – a travelling violation called on Kale Abrahamson and an offensive foul committed by Olejniczak.
That’s been the story of the Bulldogs’ offense this season. Drake’s offense is ranked sixth highest scoring in the Missouri Valley Conference, but also has the second worst turnover margin, only ahead of Bradley.
A layup from Dominik Olejniczak made it a one possession game with 7:04 remaining in the half. But then the Drake defense allowed a demoralizing 16-5 in the closing minutes.
“We got to do everything we can on the defensive end to get stops and get out in transition and run,” UNI junior Jeremy Morgan said.
Coming back out of the locker room for the second period of play the Bulldogs seemed committed to using their shooting to get back into the game. Four of their first six shots were 3-pointers, sophomore guard Reed Timmer sinking both of his attempts to close the gap back to single-digits. After being held to just two points in the first half, he would finish with a team-high 18.
Still, the Bulldogs never drew back within eight as their shooting left more to be desired throughout the second half. UNI didn’t have that problem and extended its lead to as much as 23, never giving Drake a chance to get back into the game.
Both teams had the same success from range (5-11) in the first half, but the Bulldogs couldn’t seem to score inside the arc in either period. The Panthers had 18 points in the paint in the first 20 minutes and would finish with 28. Drake only scored 18 in the paint on the day, 10 of which came from Olejniczak.
The Bulldogs lost the physical battle inside, as evidenced by the Panthers only going to the free throw line once.
“We need to do a better job pressuring the basketball,” Giacoletti said.
The stat that really showed the disparity between the two squads was field goal percentage and field goals attempted. UNI rarely missed as they connected on 34 of their 55 shots (61.8 percent) while Drake was only 23-for-48 (47.9 percent).
“Teams can’t come into your building and shoot 62 percent. That’s not a recipe for winning,” head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “They’re a tough team to defend.”
Much of the Panthers’ superior ball movement shooting was motivated by their success in converting off of turnovers and their own protection of the basketball. UNI only committed seven turnovers that translated into just six points on the other end for Drake, while the Bulldogs’ 15 turnovers turned into 26 points for the Panthers.
“They do a good job of running their stuff,” Timmer said. “They got a lot of stuff coming at you and it’s difficult to remember everything from scout week.”
Senior Panther point guard Wes Washpun seemed unstoppable no matter how Drake tried to defend him, scoring 15 points on seven attempts without a miss. Paul Jesperson led the Panthers with 21 points.
“(Our play) looks a lot more fluid and it feels a lot more fluid; before it felt like the ball was sticking,” Jesperson said of his team’s four-game winning streak.
Arogundade led the Drake offense in the first half with nine points, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, but struggled in the second as he missed his first three shot attempts in the period. He would finish with 10 points, didn’t turn the ball over once and tied Olejniczak with seven rebounds, the game-high.
“(Ore) has made great strides for us,” Giacoletti said. “We’ve been asking him to guard the other team’s best player. … He’s a two way player.”
Olejniczak scored 13 (5-5 shooting, 3-3 free throws) and pulled down seven boards, but had trouble holding onto the ball. He was responsible for four of Drake’s 15 turnovers, the most he’s committed in a single game this season.
“Dominik (Olejniczak) has the brighter future, he just needs the time,” Giacoletti said. “He’s played well the last three weeks.”
Giacoletti had looked to change things up with a new starting lineup, which gave Arogundade and Olejniczak the opportunity to display their skills. It was Arogundade’s his seventh start of 2015-16 and Olejniczak’s first.
Scoring was lacking from Abrahamson, scoring eight and shooting only 30 percent from the field, 25 percent from range. He had averaged 12.3 points per game with a .372 3-point shooting percentage entering the game.
The Bulldogs retook the Knapp Center court last night against the top-of-the-conference Wichita State Shockers. For a recap of that game log on to timesdelphic.com.