DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)—Drake spent decades finding ways to lose. Now the Bulldogs are winning games in every way possible and rewriting the school’s record books along the way.
Klayton Korver scored 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting from 3-point range and No. 22 Drake beat Northern Iowa 58-54 on Saturday to extend its school-best winning streak to 17 games.
Josh Young added 11 points for the Bulldogs, who are 9-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time since the 1969-70 season. Drake’s current winning streak is the third-best in the nation, behind No. 1 Memphis (19-0) and No. 2 Kansas (20-0).
Memphis and Kansas are used to winning. Drake, ranked for the first time since 1975, is just two years removed from a 20-year stretch without finishing above .500.
“I told the team after the game that I’m running out of things to say, the way we’re finding ways to win ballgames. Different guys step up in different games,” first-year coach Keno Davis said. “Our guys, for some reason, just have an unbelievable amount of confidence at the end of a game.”
Keeping it going hasn’t been easy for the Bulldogs (18-1, 9-0), who have won their last four games by a total of 19 points. On Saturday, it was Korver who stepped up. He brazenly answered a 3-pointer by Northern Iowa by hitting one over 7-foot-1 center Jordan Eglseder, bringing Drake within 53-52 with 4:26 left.
Drake finally retook the lead, 55-53, on a 3 by Leonard Houston with 2:30 left, and the defense took over from there. Northern Iowa missed its last nine shots from the field as Drake ended the game on a 9-1 run.
“I still don’t know how good we are, and a lot of people around the conference are probably thinking the same thing,” Davis said. “I know we play real well together.”
Up one point with a minute left, Adam Emmenecker hit a layup to give the Bulldogs a 57-54 lead. Northern Iowa’s Jared Josten got an open look from beyond the arc, but his shot hit the rim and Drake grabbed the rebound. Jonathan Cox hit a free throw with 13 seconds left to make it a two-possession game, and Kerwin Dunham missed a 3 on the other end that sealed Northern Iowa’s fate.
Josten had 12 points for the Panthers (12-8, 4-5), who have lost five of seven.
“I think their experience, combined with the confidence they’ve got right now, I think those are the two things,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said of Drake. “I think (Davis) deserves a ton of credit for that.”
Northern Iowa made it tough on the Bulldogs, erasing an eight-point halftime deficit with an 18-7 run to open the second half. Josten gave the Panthers the lead on a 3 and Eglseder followed with a 3 that put Northern Iowa ahead 42-39 with 12:21 left.
The Panthers went 5-of-8 from 3-point range at the start of the second half.
Northern Iowa, the Valley’s leader in scoring defense entering play, was able to keep the high-scoring Bulldogs from reeling off any significant runs in the second half until the end, thanks in part to a number of key shots. Brian Haak answered a long 3 by Korver with one to give Northern Iowa a 53-49 lead with 5:34 left.
“I like the fact that we battled back in the second half,” Jacobson said. “Our guys are not going to go away in a game. We’re going to play hard.”
Drake was hosting its first game as a ranked team in the 16-year old Knapp Center, and its long-suffering fans were fired up from the start. The Bulldogs fed off the energy of the crowd early, reeling off a 19-4 run midway through the first half to go ahead 26-16.
Young and Korver kicked it off with two 3s apiece, and Young capped the spurt with a 3-pointer from the baseline that pushed the lead to 10. The Bulldogs went 7-of-17 from beyond the arc in the opening half and took a 32-24 lead, it’s first halftime advantage in five games.
Korver, the younger brother of Utah Jazz forward Kyle Korver, became the second player in Drake history with more than 200 3-pointers. The affable senior has battled knee trouble much of his career, but he’s a key member of what’s shaping up to be one of the best teams in Drake history.
“We’re just having a great time right now. But we always have a good time,” Korver said.