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CEDAR FALLS — The talent and high stakes involved in Northern Iowa’s men’s basketball rivalry against Drake in recent years has ultimately created games of chess between coaches Ben Jacobson and Darian DeVries.
Two weeks ago — when the Bulldogs pulled off an 11-point comeback for a 82-74 overtime win at McLeod Center — DeVries’ late defensive adjustment with ball-screen coverage proved to be pivotal. The two-time Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year also gave the Panthers fits with a five-guard lineup that largely switched on all of UNI’s ball screens.
Headed into Saturday night’s rematch at Knapp Center (5 p.m., ESPNU), Jacobson says communication and personnel awareness will be critical.
“For us, because we’re going to make some (defensive) switches, when we do we’ve got to know who we’re guarding,” Jacobson said. “Our positioning has to be really good and it’s got to adjust based on who we’re matched up on within a possession.”
Sophomore Noah Carter has proven to be an impactful chess piece for Jacobson in the series. As a freshman in 2020, he came off the bench as an undersized center and hit three 3-pointers in what became a 70-43 blowout of the Bulldogs.
After being limited to five points in the loss two weeks ago, Jacobson says Carter and the rest of his team must keep its pace on offense in the rematch.
“Whether we’re playing against the smaller lineup and they’re switching, or we’re playing against their lineup with a true center in, it still comes down to pace,” Jacobson said. “Pace, our passing, our cutting, so that we’re able to get that ball moving side to side.”
DeVries, meanwhile, made it clear this week that there’s no predicting games in the MVC this season. Currently four teams are all within a half-game of each other — including the Panthers and Bulldogs — at the top of the league’s standings.
“Every game, you just start over. You just never know what each game is going to look like,” DeVries said. “You might play a game in the 50s against a team one time and the next time you play them, the game is in the 80s. Especially in the league right now, the games are wild. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Jacobson told The Gazette on Friday that Antwan Kimmons — who missed Wednesday’s game against Bradley — won’t know until Saturday if he’s able to clear health and safety protocols and return.
The Bulldogs, who played without Shanquan Hemphill against the Panthers in their first matchup, are certain to challenge UNI’s defense with the athletic guard back in their starting lineup.
“He’s got a great ability to get to the basket,” Jacobson said. “More importantly, from our standpoint, it just adds another challenge in terms of having to guard a guy who’s really good in space, he’s really good in transition, he’s really good on the boards and scores a lot of ways once he gets around the rim.”