Panthers pummel in-state rival Drake in MVC action

CEDAR FALLS – A little more than a week after its largest Missouri Valley Conference victory ever, the Panthers nearly raised the bar again.

The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team used a 13-0 run during the first half to take the lead for good and break free of in-state rival Drake on its way to an 85-55 rout of the visiting Bulldogs Sunday at the McLeod Center.

UNI beat Bradley 84-53 on Jan. 12 for its largest margin of MVC victory, making Sunday’s 30-point shellacking the second-best deficit.

Four Panther starters scored in double figures as UNI (10-9, 3-4) got out to a 15-point halftime lead after that 13-point surge put Drake (8-10, 2-5) in its rear-view mirror to stay.

The Bulldogs led by four during the early stages and found themselves in front 17-15 after a Jordan Clarke layup with 10:01 left before the half. But Northern Iowa used the next 3:14 to outscore the ‘Dogs 13-0, getting a pair of 3-pointers from Deon Mitchell to start the spurt and another by Marc Sonnen to finish it.

By that point, the Panthers had pulled out to a 28-17 lead, and Drake never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

A 16-0 Panther run in the second half served as salt in the wide-open victory.

Mitchell finished with a game-high 20 points to pace Northern Iowa, Jake Koch had 16 points and seven rebounds, while Anthony James and Seth Tuttle scored 10 points apiece as the Panthers shot 30-for-50 (60 percent) from the field for the game.

Richard Carter scored a team-leading 16 points off the bench for Drake, and Clarke had 10 points and eight boards in the decisive loss.

“We’ve got two days and a really good Creighton team coming into the Knapp Center,” said Drake coach Mark Phelps, “so we’ve got to forget about some things from this game, get back in the gym, get better and get ready to roll.”

Wednesday’s tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. in Des Moines. Northern Iowa hosts Southern Illinois, also at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the McLeod Center.