Panthers extend winning streak, defeat Drake 71-63

Bennett Koch had another big game with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal.

Bennett Koch had another big game with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal.

If there was ever a game that summed up the UNI men’s basketball season as a whole, this was it.

With a strong start making you believe it would be a blowout, a middle where you had to wonder if the same team had started the game, but finally in the home stretch when it mattered most UNI was able to answer the bell. 5237 UNI and Drake fans piled into the Knapp Center, Drake’s largest crowd since 2014, to witness what can simply be described as an awesome basketball game with UNI picking up the victory 71-63. Klint Carlson was the leading scorer for UNI racking up 17 points on 6-9 shooting (3-5 3PT) to go with 6 rebounds and 2 assists.

UNI started the game on fire, going on a 14-2 run over the first 6:35 of the first half. From the remainder of the first period though, it was all Bulldogs. After going 7-10 over that opening run, they were only 4-16 over the remaining 14:25, including a 6:58 scoreless streak to end the first half. In spite of their offensive struggles, UNI still clung to a 25-22 halftime lead, as Drake had their own offensive struggles, only shooting 9-30 from the field (1-13 3PT).

Neither team could hit from the 3 point line in the opening stanza, combining to shoot an ice cold 2-23 from beyond the arc. Very uncharacteristic for teams in UNI and Drake that shoot 34% and 35% from deep, respectively.

Drake got their offense going from the start of the second half, hitting their first 5 shots of the half to take a 33-31 lead with 15:10 left in regulation. It was a back and forth affair for most of the second half, with two well coached teams going toe to toe.

Finally UNI gained the upper hand with a 10-2 run over 4:50, lead by UNI’s big 3 in the post (Luke McDonnell 5 points during the run, Klint Carlson 3, Bennett Koch 2). Drake tried to make things interesting down the stretch, but UNI was able to make their free throws (13-15 over final 5 minutes), and the Panthers won their 5th straight and completed the season sweep of Drake 71-63.

UNI’s offense came up huge in the second half scoring 46 points, their highest second half total since putting up 49 in the second half against North Dakota. UNI went 12-22 (54.5%) from the field including 4-8 (50%) from 3. It was another example during this winning streak of UNI not necessarily being at their best for the whole game, but coming up big when they needed to get the job done. UNI finished the night shooting 23-48 (47.9%) in spite of a tough night from deep shooting 5-18 (27.8%).

As has been the case during the entirety of this 5 game winning streak, defense and rebounding were the defining factors. While no one reached double figures in rebounding, it was a group effort to end the night tied with Drake at 35, as 5 different Panthers were able to collect at least 4 rebounds (Ashton, Carlson, Koch, McDonnell, and Haldeman). Jordan Ashton was the key contributor on the defensive end, collecting 7 rebounds to lead UNI while holding Reed Timmer to 10 points (16.9 PPG). Jordan also was the lead distributor on the offensive end, handing out 5 assists to counteract him not hitting a shot from the field (0-7).

“He’s come a long ways defensively,” Coach Jake said post game, “he’s done a great job of listening, working, watching film, and getting himself bought into what we want to do defensively. He has the size moves well enough where he can guard guys like that. They’ll get some points, but he will make it difficult for 40 minutes.”

UNI’s big 3 in the post were once again the key to making it 5 straight wins as Koch, Carlson, and McDonnell combined for 40 points, 15 boards, and 3 blocks. Having those guys play at the level they’ve been at allows guys like Jordan Ashton to focus on defense and distributing as opposed to scoring, which makes everything on the Panther ship run a lot smoother. Carlson was the key in the second half, going 3-3 (2-2 3PT) to end up with 9 second half points.

“Klint was maybe our best player today,” said head coach Ben Jacobson, “he took control of the game in the second half, and I don’t think he does that three weeks ago.”

There have been remarks made about the similarities to how this conference schedule began compared to last season. With UNI beginning conference play 2-6 before winning 13 of 14 to make the Round of 32 last March, while this years squad started off the conference schedule 0-5 before winning 5 straight. Klint Carlson fully believes a similar run can be accomplished.

“We started this year as one of the best defensive teams I’ve ever been a part of. Then we just kinda hit that stretch where we weren’t playing well, and now we’re back to where we should have been in the first place. We played really well at the beginning of the year, and now we’re back to where we need to be.”

“We knew we just had to get going, even when we were down. Even during the losing streak we just focused on getting better everyday in practice, and that’s what we did. It’s going to be a fun rest of the year for sure.”