CEDAR FALLS — A pair of late free throws from Spencer Haldeman and a first-half scoreless streak of 9 minutes, 40 seconds from Drake made the difference in Northern Iowa’s 57-54 win Sunday afternoon at McLeod Center.
Despite Drake’s first-half scoring struggles, it stayed within striking distance, making for the most dramatic second half of UNI’s season.
After trailing 29-23 at the half — largely a result of the Panthers scoring just seven points during the Bulldogs’ first-half scoreless streak — Drake’s Tremmel Murphy missed a last-second 3-point shot that would have sent the game to overtime.
“The big plays certainly came at the defensive end of the floor tonight,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “I thought the first half we defended great. We were able to make some things hard on them. We took some things away from them and had an opportunity to stretch (the lead) out a little bit and we couldn’t do it.”
UNI opened the second half with an 8-3 run to push its lead to nine, prompting Bulldogs coach Darian DeVries to call an early timeout. Eight minutes after the timeout, Drake (12-5, 1-3) pulled within a possession at 48-45 on a Nick McGlynn layup.
Less than four minutes after McGlynn’s layup, a step-back 3 from Brady Ellingson tied the score at 52. However, UNI’s Trae Berhow — who scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds — answered Ellingson’s 3 with one of his own, putting the Panthers back in front for good.
“Whatever part of the game we were in we needed every one of (our made shots),” Jacobson said. “It was just one of those games for us.”
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Prior to Murphy’s missed 3 at the buzzer, the Bulldogs, trailing by one with eight seconds remaining, threw a lob pass for McGlynn on an inbounds play that was stolen by Luke McDonnell. McDonnell passed to Haldeman, who was fouled and made both free throws of a one-and-one to extend UNI’s lead to three with five seconds to play.
“I’m not sure who said it, but whoever was guarding the guy that set it called out back-screen so I knew I had to stay attached to (McGlynn) because he’s a pretty athletic guy. He can get up there and tip it in,” McDonnell said. “So I just tried to ride him out as far as I could and jump up and make a play on the ball.”
McDonnell and Wyatt Lohaus, who joined AJ Green (11 points) in double-figures with 10 and 14 points respectively, acknowledged that emotions were high in what was the first game since losing Miles Wentzien to a season-ending knee injury. Jacobson also acknowledged how Wentzien’s injury played a role throughout the team in the lead-up to and during the back-and-forth rivalry game.
“I would tell you being able to go in the locker room and seeing a big smile on Miles’ face, that’s such a big part of this,” Jacobson said. “We all know that (injuries) happen, but I’m just telling you it’s almost impossible to describe the emotions that guys go through when this happens so to be able to go into that locker room and see a big smile on (Miles’) face, that’s the most important thing today.”
Northern Iowa (7-10, 2-2) hosts Indiana State (10-6, 2-2) Wednesday at 7 p.m.