CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa nearly played spoiler Wednesday night at McLeod Center, falling short to Drake, 77-69.
The Bulldogs — sitting in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings and on the NCAA Tournament at-large bubble — fought off one of UNI’s better performances this season since losing AJ Green in mid-December.
“I think (UNI) is a good team,” Drake head coach Darian DeVries said. “(Trae) Berhow and (Austin) Phyfe (are) two really good players, all-conference players and then those young guys they just keep getting better and better. We knew what we were getting into tonight.”
After a closely contested first half that ended with Drake leading 31-30, the Bulldogs finally got separation midway through the second half, using a 12-2 run for a 57-47 lead.
“We were pretty consistent. First half we played good basketball,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “In the second half, they scored at such a high rate, there weren’t that many (rebounds) to get. We played a better game today than we did last Wednesday.”
Without leading scorer Shanquan Hemphill (foot), and Roman Penn battling injury throughout the game, the Bulldogs got season-highs of 20 points from Joseph Yesufu and 19 from Garrett Sturtz.
Sturtz helped Drake (20-2, 11-2) get things going in the second half, scoring 15 of his 19 in the final 20 minutes while Yesufu’s season-high 29 minutes more than covered for the ailing Penn.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“I thought we played a really good game besides that (second half) stretch,” UNI guard Bowen Born said. “We still did a good job of cutting it back. We just can’t continue to have stretches where teams are capitalizing on mistakes.”
UNI got back within six with 3:29 to play on a quick 5-0 run, but Drake’s unlikely standouts quickly pushed the margin back to double digits; Sturtz and Yesufu answered with tough, contested layups.
(Yesufu) is a really good player. He’s definitely a tough guard,” Born said. “But it’s just got to be a team defensive effort.”
Phyfe led UNI with 19 points and was joined in double figures by Berhow (13), Nate Heise (12) and Born (10).
UNI wraps up its regular season next Friday and Saturday at Illinois State (6-15, 3-12).