DES MOINES — Drake overpowered Northern Iowa in a Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball game Wednesday night at Knapp Center, 80-59.
The Bulldogs (19-1, 10-1) — coming off their first loss of the season at Valparaiso on Sunday — utilized their athleticism for a 42-26 rebounding advantage, racking up 12 offensive rebounds and turning those into 13 second-chance points.
A 10-2 first-half run and 12-2 run in the second half by Drake — with the latter punctuated by Shaquan Hemphill’s dunk for a 17-point lead with 9:50 remaining — effectively shut the door on UNI’s hopes for an upset.
“Maybe the most disappointing part in that is that we’ve been a good rebounding team this year. We’re toward the top in the league,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “It’s 41-29 at halftime and three or four offensive rebounds that Drake got that we needed to come up with — maybe they get four less points and maybe we get two more or four more — so you got a five- or six-point game instead of a 12-point game.”
Despite the lopsided result, UNI (6-13, 4-9) once again displayed an ability to play well in stretches, trimming the Bulldogs’ lead to seven early in the second half.
Drake coach Darian DeVries described what went into his team’s response after having seen their 18-game winning streak snapped.
“We just felt like really the last few games prior to the loss we kind of lost a little of our identity,” DeVries said. “The ball was sticking a little bit, so really focused on getting the ball moving again, and then defensively having a little teeth into what we were doing.”
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Trae Berhow led the Panthers with 14 points while Austin Phyfe and Bowen Born joined him in double figures with 10 apiece. Noah Carter, who scored in double figures his past seven games, was held to nine.
Joseph Yesufu and Tremell Murphy scored 18 points apiece for Drake. D.J. Wilkins added 15 points for the Bulldogs, who stretched their home winning streak to 11 games. Hemphill had nine rebounds.
Now, with just five games remaining on its regular-season schedule, UNI is getting closer to locking in its status as a bottom-four seed at the MVC tournament and playing in the first round.
Despite the struggles, Jacobson said his staff and team’s entire focus remains on getting better each day.
“(Seeding) isn’t something that we talk about,” Jacobson said. “We’re either going to play better and we’re going to win a couple games and get ourselves a better finish, a better seed at Arch Madness, or we’re not. We’ve got to keep getting better. I know we’re into almost mid-February and by this time you want to be pretty consistent, you want to be doing a lot of things well, but we’re still a work-in-progress.”
UNI hosts Valparaiso (7-12, 4-6) at 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+).