CEDAR FALLS — Jordan Clarke summed up a 30-point blowout in a matter of seven words.
“We stopped scoring and they kept scoring,” the fifth year Drake senior said.
His counterpart, Northern Iowa senior Jake Koch, told a different story.
“No it definitely was not easy,” Koch said. “…It’s all about timing. Our defense played pretty well tonight. Our defense played pretty well tonight. We were able to get a couple of stops and string them together.”
The Panthers pieced together more than a few stops, holding Drake to a season low in points. UNI improved to 3-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference and 10-9 overall with an 85-55 win Sunday. Drake fell to 2-5 and 8-10 overall.
The low in points is much like Clarke’s summation, short and sweet and gets to the point, but is only the beginning. Northern Iowa held Drake to a season low in first half points as well with 22. The suffocating defensive performance in the first 20 minutes came after UNI held Bradley to 14 in the first half eight days prior.
“We haven’t won each of the last five games, but we’ve played pretty good,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. “I see our confidence growing and that’s a big part of it.”
The Bulldogs could have said the same thing. They came to the McLeod Center winners of their last two games. In both contests, Drake hung more than 80 points on the board with sharpshooters on the perimeter.
Drake boasted the 14th best 3-point field goal percentage in the country at 39.6. Sunday, the Panthers limited the Bulldogs to 26.1, tied for the second worst performance of Drake’s season. The six 3s also tied for the second fewest on the year.
“After the way Drake played against Illinois State and Evansville, the way they shot the basketball from the 3-point line, we needed to make a real effort to cover a lot of ground and to get to those 3-point shooters,” Jacobson said. “I thought we had a couple rotations where we made up more ground than we have in some other games.”
Ben Simons leads the Bulldogs in 3-point attempts and makes. Marc Sonnen is the leader in the Panthers clubhouse in those two categories as well. But it was Sonnen’s 3-point defense that stood tall against Drake. Sonnen limited Simons to six points on 2 of 9 shooting, including two 3s.
Simons joined teammates Seth VanDeest and Chris Hines who also struggled. The trio averages more than 34 points per game to lead the Bulldogs. But the 4,215 inside McCleod Center saw them score 12 points Sunday.
“Marc’s done a good job,”Jacobson said. “We wanted to get higher on (Simons) so it was harder to get a single screen and get open.”
On the other side, UNI had four players finish in double figures including Deon Mitchell who sank 3 of 4 from deep and led the team with 20. Jake Koch had 16, 14 of which came in the second half.
“I think we’re pretty up there in the confidence. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to against Creighton, but I mean you can’t play good every game,” Mitchell said. “It’s good to bounce back and boost our confidence.
The Panthers shot 60 percent from the field and 38.9 from beyond the arc. They also made 18 of 20 free throws. Combine that with holding the Bulldogs to its second worst shooting day of the year – inside and outside the 3-point line and the day nearly ended perfectly for the Panthers.
Nate Buss swatted Jeremy Jeffers’ last second layup, which would have tied the Bulldogs worst scoring output of the year. Instead, UNI can claim that feat.
It wouldn’t have mattered if not for a mishap in the first half. Koch and Anthony James battled for a defensive rebound, but neither came down with it. The ball ended up ricocheting into the basket and scoring two for Drake. It was the only two points in a 17-2 first half run for UNI.
“Guards need to stop stealing my rebounds,” Koch said. “I had both my hands on it and he came in and poked it out.”
NORTHERN IOWA 85, DRAKE 55
The “Double Bonus:” Gazette reporter Michael Bonner’s quick reaction to UNI’s dominating win over Drake at the McLeod Center Sunday afternoon.
Game Ball: Panthers’ defense – held Drake to a season low 55 points and 22 in the first half.
Lame Ball: Ben Simons – Drake’s leading scorer finished with six points on 2 of 9 shooting.
Light the victory cigar: 11:58 of the second half. UNI’s Seth Tuttle lays in back-to-back shots to put the Panthers up 28 and cap off a 15-0 run.
Watercooler stat: UNI held Drake to its lowest point total (55), lowest free throw total (7), second lowest 3-point FG percentage (26.1) and second fewest 3s made (six)
Big Number: 15 – the total amount of points scored by Drake’s three leading scorers (Ben Simons, Seth VanDeest, Chris Hines), who usually combine to score 34.