CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa trailed Drake 29-13 with just under seven minutes remaining in the first half, but flipped the script in the remaining 27 minutes for a 68-54 win Tuesday night at McLeod Center.
Tied at nine with just over 15 minutes to play in the first half, the Bulldogs (11-9, 5-2) caught fire. A 16-2 run fueled by four 3s grew the Bulldogs lead to 16 points, forcing UNI (10-9, 2-5) head coach Ben Jacobson to make use of multiple timeouts to stem the run.
“(Drake’s) been sharp,” Jacobson said. “They’ve improved a bunch defensively in the last three to four weeks it looks like on film, and they’ve been really sharp on offense. So, I’m not surprised they had a six, seven-minute stretch where they were rolling like they did in that first half.”
UNI answered the Bulldogs, using an 11-0 run that featured six points from Bennett Koch — who scored 19 points in his second game coming off the bench — to pull within five with two minutes left in the half. Spencer Haldeman — who, along with Koch, started the second half in place of Juwan McCloud and Austin Phyfe, respectively — hit a contested layup at the first-half horn to draw UNI within two.
“I’m stuck on how hard the guys played — obviously we were in quite a bit of trouble,” Jacobson said. “But (Drake’s) just been playing so well. To dig that kind of hole against those guys it obviously didn’t look good at that point, but right now I’m stuck on two things: how hard we played, and that we stuck with the things we wanted to do in the game and didn’t get away from it when we got down. Then, the play from Bennett. Just tremendous.”
A 6-0 run early in the second half gave the Panthers their first lead since the 15:43 mark of the first half. Shortly after their 6-0 run, UNI went on a 13-0 run that was given an assist by Drake head coach Nike Medved. Klint Carlson was fouled shooting a turnaround hook shot and Medved’s dispute of the call ended with a technical foul. After Carlson’s basket and three free throws, UNI’s 50-38 lead only continued to grow.
“I’m tremendously proud of (Bennett),” Jacobson said. “Mostly because he is a fifth-year senior and he’s been in the starting lineup. To get taken out of it is tough. For him to be able to bounce back, and miss the two easy (shots), before he comes back and easily ends up becoming the player of the game for us, I just thought handling the situation in terms of starting, not starting, and then just playing his tail off says a ton about the kid.”
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After starting the second half with Koch and Haldeman in the lineup, Jacobson stuck with the group, not making his first second-half substitution until 6:28 remained. Koch scored 13 of his 19 in the second half and was routinely joined by Tywhon Pickford on the offensive end. Pickford recorded his fifth double-double in the win. Haldeman and Carlson joined Koch and Pickford in double-figures, scoring 12 and 10 respectively.
After having lost six straight before Saturday’s win over Valparaiso and Tuesday’s win over Missouri Valley Conference-leading Drake, Jacobson described the UNI locker room as “hungry.”
“That’s four games in a row now where we’ve had some things happen at the offensive end that had been better,” Jacobson said. “It’s been good to see that happen. Been good to see our team move forward with some offensive things.”