Arch Madness, Panthers fall to Drake

COLIN HORNING, Sports Editor

Having clinched the number one overall seed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis and regular-season title, the UNI Panther men’s basketball team were the heavy favorites coming into Arch Madness on Friday. A season filled with accolades, accomplishments and overall success was put to a halt by in-state rivals Drake at the Enterprise Center, causing a shake-up in the conference tournament and changing the overall layout of bracketologists around the college basketball world. Just six days earlier, the Panthers came into the Knapp Center in Des Moines and crushed the Bulldogs by 27 points. But as the saying goes, it’s hard to beat a team three times. UNI learned that the hard way on Friday, as they fell by 21 points to Drake, 77-56, and were knocked out of the MVC tournament seemingly just as fast as it began.

Almost immediately, the Panthers found themselves in a hole. After scoring the first basket of the game from an Isaiah Brown pull-up jump shot, Drake responded with 3 three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to open up a 9-2 lead. The Bulldogs shot a blazing 60% from three-point range and 59% overall from the field and led by as many as 17 points in the first half. A mini UNI run cut the deficit to 10 points going into halftime, as the Panthers trailed 43-33.

An 11-3 run within the first four minutes of the second half saw the Panthers cut into the Drake lead, pulling them within two. An Austin Phyfe layup at the 12:36 mark of the second half cut the Bulldog lead to 50-48 and the momentum seemed to be in UNI’s favor. However, three times Northern Iowa had come within two points, but couldn’t seem to get over the hump.

Following Phyfe’s lay-in, Drake guard Roman Penn took over the game. Penn scored 14 of the next 16 Drake points, with the other two coming off a Liam Robbins layup assisted by Penn. UNI did not score for nearly 10 minutes of play during this stretch, with their next basket coming around 2:30 remaining off of an Isaiah Brown three-pointer. But by this point, Drake had all but put away the tournament’s top-seeded team.

“I felt like there were some plays at the offensive end we didn’t execute, some of the things at the end of offensive possessions as well as we have, and it didn’t feel like we blocked out,” said UNI head coach Ben Jacobson.

Looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, there is much speculation about the Panthers’ fate. Many analytics had UNI as a potential 10 or 11 seed in the tournament, but all coming with the assumption that they would win the MVC tournament or at least win one or two games in Arch Madness. The first-round loss adds much uncertainty to their fate.

The Panthers have a decent resume to pitch to the selection committee, with their NET ranking coming around 45 and a solid true road win against a top-25 team in Colorado. ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi initially had the Panthers still in the tournament following Friday’s loss, but has since moved them to the outside looking in following some other shake-ups in conference tournaments around the country. The Panthers and their fans will have to wait and see if the selection committee will favor the team after the unexpected outcome of Arch Madness until Sunday, March 15, when the March Madness bracket will be announced on CBS.