CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The difference one man makes.
Wednesday night at Bradley, Northern Iowa Panthers senior Jeremy Morgan was inactive. The guard’s right foot was in a walking boot due to an ankle sprain.
Four days later, the 2016-17 Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Player of the Year was back on the court for a rivalry game against Drake.
For the first time since December 10, UNI fought to a victory.
Northern Iowa, shooting 63% in the first half, immediately jumped on Drake and put the Bulldogs in their pen, 79-60. Jeremy Morgan’s presence was felt with a 21-point, 4-rebound, 3-assist performance while Bennett Koch was perfect from the floor and scored 21 points.
“For him, this is great,” said Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson of Koch. “He is a very good player, and he’s a tough guy to play against when he’s playing like he did today.”
Jeremy Morgan’s first basket at the 14:55 mark began a 24-3 domination for Northern Iowa. The Bulldogs, who were previously trailing 8-7, endured an 8-minute stretch in which they were 1-of-12 from the field.
Morgan scored 10 points during the run while fellow senior Jordan Ashton contributed seven.
Ashton’s third triple supplied the Panthers with their biggest lead of the game, 37-13.
Although Drake nearly doubled their point total in the final five minutes, the Panthers persisted in holding a 20-point advantage heading into halftime.
In the second half, the Bulldogs could only run within 15. A personal 5-0 burst by Reed Timmer lessened the deficit with 9:30 remaining. The Panthers answered with eight straight, ballooning their edge to 23.
Reed Timmer and Ore Arogundade had impressive outings for the Bulldogs. Timmer, Drake’s leading scorer, reached his conference scoring average with 18 points. Arogundade scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, complemented by 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Bulldogs’ guard De’Ante McMurray chipped in 13 points.
Four Panthers scored in double-figures on Sunday afternoon. Jeremy Morgan and Bennett Koch teamed up to be a dynamic duo, combining for 42 points (both scored 21), 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Sharpshooters Jordan Ashton and Spencer Haldeman finished with 17 and 10 points respectively.
For the entirety, Northern Iowa exploited the Bulldogs’ lack of a defensive anchor. From an athletic guard like Morgan to a three-point specialist such as Haldeman, Panthers’ guards probed the paint and received any shot attempt desired. Bennett Koch also took advantage of Drake’s lack of size. In total, UNI scored 36 points in the paint.
“I want to end every single game feeling the same way, or better,” Koch said.
Today’s loss broke a two-game winning streak for the 5-13 (3-3) Drake Bulldogs. A tough stretch will begin on Wednesday for the “Dogs in Blue.” The next three opponents (Southern Illinois, Illinois State, and Missouri State) combine for a 13-5 conference record.
The losing streak is officially over for 6-11 (1-5) Northern Iowa. In a span of 35 days, the Panthers lost seven consecutive contests. On Wednesday, Ben Jacobson’s group will look to avoid the start of another when hosting Loyola (IL). The Ramblers also won, defeating the Missouri State Bears on Sunday.
“We have practiced really well,” Jacobson said. “The guys deserve a lot of credit for that because that’s difficult to do [while losing].”
– P. Wesner