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CEDAR FALLS – Not much was aesthetically pleasing during the final 5-minute, 40-second stretch of Sunday afternoon’s basketball game between Northern Iowa and Drake that didn’t include a single made field goal.

However, the smile across Miles Wentzien’s face in the McLeod Center locker room following UNI’s 57-54 grind-it-out victory was a thing of beauty.

In the first game since Wentzien suffered a season-ending ACL injury at Illinois State, UNI (7-10, 2-2 Missouri Valley Conference) emulated the passion and relentless style of basketball their senior starter brought to the court on a daily basis — shutting down one of the league’s top offenses in the process.

“Being able to go into the locker room and see a big smile on Miles’ face, that’s such a big part of this,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “That’s the most important thing today. That’ll give him a little bounce in his step. He knows he’s got a long road ahead.

“I thought we played just as hard today as we did when Miles was in the lineup. That is something that can propel us forward, how hard we play. If we’ve got guys that will play each possession as hard as Miles played each possession then we’re going to be fine.”

Luke McDonnell was a difference-maker for the Panthers’ defense down the stretch. The lanky 6-foot-9 junior center out-fought two Drake defenders for key defensive rebound in the final minute.

McDonnell then helped UNI protect a one-point lead by stealing a sideline entry pass with Nick McGlynn going toward the basket and 8.6 seconds remaining. UNI’s Spencer Haldeman knocked down a pair of free throws from there, and Drake’s Tremell Murphy missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.

McDonnell heard a teammate call out a back screen on the play that Drake coach Darian DeVries drew up in a timeout, then beat McGlynn to the pass.

“I knew I had to stay attached to him because he’s a pretty athletic guy,” McDonnell said. “He can get up there and tip it in. I just tried to ride him out as far as I could and jump up and make a play on a ball.”

McDonnell and reserve center Justin Dahl made life difficult on McGlynn, who finished 6 of 16 from the field for a hard-earned 15 points. Plenty of hustle plays that didn’t show up on the stat sheet were also part of McDonnell’s repertoire with an injured teammate at the front of his mind.

“Miles is our energy guy,” said McDonnell, who finished with 10 points and six rebounds. “That’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever met. Coach has been talking about how we need to all bring energy like Miles every day. We’ve all been working on it, just trying to play as hard as we can, just like he did. … We all were very inspired.”

Drake (12-5, 1-3 MVC ) entered this game averaging a league-leading 81 points, but was held to a season-low 23 on 27.6 percent shooting in the first half.

“Some possessions we beat them to the spot that they were going to,” Jacobson said. “Their initial action didn’t get them a shot and they had to go to a second action. Then we stayed with the possession.”

Despite UNI’s defensive success, the Panthers led just 29-23 at intermission. UNI then went cold after taking its largest lead of 11 (37-26) on a 3-pointer as part of Wyatt Lohaus’ team-high 14 points with 18:26 remaining.

Brady Ellingson scored eight of his 11 points in the second half, bringing Drake within three twice and knocking down a step-back 3-pointer that tied the score at 52 with 6:41 left. McDonnell found Trae Berhow for a go-ahead, catch-and-shoot 3 on the ensuing possession, and UNI clung to a narrow lead from that point forward.

Berhow finished a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range and added a team-high nine rebounds. His efficiency was key on a day when point guard AJ Green’s pull-up jumper wasn’t falling. Green made just 5 of 18 shots from the field and 1 of 8 from distance for 11 points.

Drake’s final basket came on a layup by McGlynn with 5:40 to play. Shots at the rim remained contested down the stretch, while point guard Noah Thomas was unable to connect on a pair of looks out of double teams as the Bulldogs finished 12 points below their previous season-low total of 66.

Isaiah Brown was a key defender on Thomas, holding him to four points after he scored 24 in a Tuesday win over Southern Illinois.

“Credit to Northern Iowa and the effort they had for 40 minutes there,” said Drake’s DeVries, whose team has now dropped two of three games since a season-ending ACL injury to point guard Nick Norton. “I thought it was a really gritty, tough effort. I thought our guys competed hard, as well, and just came up a little short.”

UNI 57, Drake 54

Drake Mn FG-A FT-A Rb As PF TP

Wilkins 38 4-12 0-0 3 3 5 11

T. Murphy 27 3-9 2-2 6 1 0 9

Thomas 32 1-7 2-2 6 1 3 4

Ellingson 36 4-6 0-0 3 1 0 11

McGlynn 31 6-16 2-2 9 0 2 15

Sturtz 13 0-2 0-0 2 0 1 0

Murphy 14 0-2 2-2 4 0 0 2

Pilipovic 0+ 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0

Robbins 9 1-2 0-0 3 0 2 2

Team 3

Totals 200 19-56 8-8 39 6 13 54

UNI Mn FG-A FT-A Rb As PF TP

Green 30 5-18 0-1 3 1 0 11

Berhow 32 3-4 0-0 9 2 2 9

Lohaus 33 5-13 2-2 1 2 0 14

Brown 23 1-5 2-2 0 0 3 4

McDonnell 26 4-5 1-2 6 1 3 10

Pickford 19 0-0 0-0 1 1 1 0

Dahl 13 1-2 0-0 6 0 1 2

Haldeman 24 2-6 2-2 3 1 1 7

Team 3

Totals 200 21-53 7-9 32 8 11 57

Drake 23 31 — 54

N. Iowa 29 28 — 57

3-point goals — Drake 8-21 (Wilkins 3-6, T. Murphy 1-2, Thomas 0-4, Ellingson 3-4, McGlynn 1-3, Murphy 0-2), UNI 8-24 (Green 1-8, Berhow 3-3, Lohaus 2-6, Brown 0-1, McDonnell 1-2, Haldeman 1-4). Blocks — Drake 0, UNI 4 (four at 1). Turnovers – Drake 11 (four at 2), UNI 6 (Lohaus 5). Steals — Drake 3 (Thomas 2), UNI 4 (McDonnell 2).

Officials – Pollard, Janssen, Smith. Att. – 4,141.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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