DES MOINES--With road success continuing to elude Northern Iowa's basketball team inside the Missouri Valley Conference, it didn't take long for a Knapp Center crowd of 5,121 to become engaged Saturday afternoon.
UNI stumbled out of the gate and never held a lead as Drake produced the timely runs to take sole possession of fourth place, 71-64. The Bulldogs' victory avenged a 14-point setback in Cedar Falls where the offense fizzled down the stretch.
Forward Nick McGlynn led Drake (14-13, 8-6) with 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting. Guards Reed Timmer and C.J. Rivers chipped in 15 and 12, respectively.
UNI (12-14, 4-10) fell to 0-7 away from home in the MVC after its shortest trip of the slate. Wyatt Lohaus' 17 points paced the Panthers, and Bennett Koch added 11 for a bench that once again outplayed the starting five with 42 of the team's points.
Turnovers on five of the opening six possessions placed UNI in a 9-0 hole, and Drake frequently beat Panther defenders to the rim early with the hosts converting eight of their first 10 field goal opportunities to assemble a 17-9 lead.
"We got off to a bad start defensively," said Tywhon Pickford, who was active with 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and led UNI's starting unit in playing time with 26 minutes. "We weren't engaged, focused and ready. We've got to do a better job of preparing ourselves to get ready -- especially in the away games."
Bennett Koch's eight offensive rebounds helped facilitate UNI comebacks in each half. A deep Spencer Haldeman 3-pointer tied the game at 28 before Drake scored the final seven points of the first half over a 1-minute, 45-second stretch capped by an Ore Argundade tip-in for the team's only offensive rebound of the stanza.
A Lohaus 3-pointer kick started a seven-point run that cut UNI's deficit to two, 48-46, midway through the second half.
Once again, Drake responded. This time is was with a six-point surge triggered by a Rivers layup. The Bulldogs led by at last five through the remainder of the game.
"I don't fault our effort," UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. "We made some mistakes, but Drake, they were sharp. They made some plays when they had to.
"Drake's had a really good year and they've been terrific at home. If you're going to win a game like this, you've got to have everybody and we didn't quite have everybody as sharp as we needed."
Resurrecting a Drake program that went 7-24 and tied for ninth in the league a year ago, coach Niko Medved didn't see his players get rattled by UNI's runs.
Discipline was part of the Bulldogs equation for success. While UNI made two more field goals, Drake hit 19 of 27 free throws compared to a 6 of 12 free throw shooting effort from the visitors.
"This game was going to be close," Medved said. "Every time we had an opportunity to stretch it, they came right back and made plays. Our guys showed a lot of poise.
"These guys have been through it and I think they have confidence in what we do. They don't get too up, they don't get too down. We just talk a lot about playing in the moment."
Unfazed by the early deficit and Drake's late first-half run, UNI revealed toughness in defeat.
"I thought each guy had their moment where they made a big play for us to dig in and start a little comeback," Lohaus said. "Throughout the game we were kind of looking for a little stretch to get over the hump, but we really couldn't find it."
While losses continue to pile up, UNI's players remain engaged.
"I thought Bennett did a great job fighting for rebounds, Ty had a couple stretches where he was being incredibly active," Lohaus said. "We got on the floor early in that first half, we played with a lot of pace. We've just got to pull out the positives and keep working."
PICKING UP A RECORD: Pickford's 10th double-digit rebounding effort allowed him to pass Eric Coleman for the UNI freshman rebounding record. He currently sits at 209 boards on the season.
"It's what completes me as a player and it's a big part of my game so I'm really proud of it," Pickford said.