By: Sammy Stava
The MVC Regular Season Champions Northern Iowa Panthers came into Arch Madness as the only team in the conference with an at-large threat for the NCAA Tournament. To get that at-large spot, head coach Ben Jacobson’s team only have three possible chances this weekend to impress the selection committee. In their first game, their in-state rival Drake Bulldogs stood in the way.
After a 75-65 win over Illinois State on Thursday night, the Bulldogs carried a lot of momentum into Friday’s tilt. Drake led 43-33 at halftime shooting 59 percent from the field and 6-10 from three-point range.
The Bulldogs were 20 minutes away from pulling off a huge upset to start Quarterfinal Friday. All of a sudden, the Panthers clawed back in the game and got the deficit within two, trailing just 50-48 with 12:36 remaining in the game.
That is usually around the time where the underdog runs out of gas in upset bids, but Drake did the complete opposite this time. An 18-0 run from 10:50-2:28 remaining put the game away. Sophomore guard Roman Penn led the Bulldogs with a career-high 26 points, and none were bigger than his back-to-back threes to put Drake ahead 62-48, ultimately resulting in the dagger.
77-56 was your final as the Drake Bulldogs advanced to Semifinal Saturday. How big of an upset was this? For the first time in Arch Madness history, the No. 8 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed.
Northern Iowa was coming into this tournament looking to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume. Instead, the Panthers became the first MVC Tournament No. 1 seed to lose in the Quarterfinal round.
While Northern Iowa certainly didn’t help their NCAA Tournament at-large chances on Friday, the Panthers are still worthy of consideration come Selection Sunday. At 25-6 overall, UNI is currently ranked 47th on KenPom and 36th in the NET, which are still some good postseason credentials.
“From January 1 on, we’ve been pretty well between 26 and 40, and that’s an NCAA Tournament team,” head coach Ben Jacobson said when talking about UNI’s rankings.
“They’re certainly an NCAA
Tournament team and deserve to be in the tournament,” – Drake head coach Darian
DeVries said of Northern Iowa. “For our team, certainly happy about the way
they performed today and really competed, and it was fun to watch them out
there for these 40 minutes.”
All eyes were on Northern Iowa on Friday, but
the day belonged to Drake. The Bulldogs are the ones that are still alive for
an automatic bid. Their journey will continue on Semifinal Saturday.