Following its big win in front of a sellout home crowd on Tuesday night against Notre Dame, much of the attention surrounding the No. 23 ranked Iowa basketball team had turned towards an upcoming December 13th showdown with bitter in-state rival: No. 17 Iowa State.
Before that matchup comes to fruition though, two other games sat in front of Iowa including a Saturday night contest against Drake. As a part of the second annual Big Four Classic in Des Moines featuring Iowa’s four state Division 1 schools (Iowa, Iowa State, Drake, and Northern Iowa), the Hawkeyes found themselves in an early battle before pulling away for an 83-66 victory.
As much as fans and players were anticipating the game in Ames six days from this evening, the 6-1 Bulldogs of Drake refused to be satisfied with simply laying down for their more prominent in-state neighbors.
Led by its three point shooting (12-29 for the game), Drake traded leads with the Hawkeyes throughout the first half. Playing at home in Des Moines, though at a neutral site where the majority of the fans favored Iowa, the Bulldog players looked as if they fully expected to compete with their first ranked opponent of the season. For the first 17 minutes of action they did exactly that, until the Hawkeyes provided them with a reminder as to why they were the heavy favorite.
Trailing 39-40 with 2:42 left in the opening half Iowa started playing with the sense of urgency and aggression that had carried them to eight previous wins in 2013-14. A 10-0 run gave the Hawkeyes a cushion heading into the locker room, and also relieved some of the tension from their fans who just a few hours earlier had watched a heavily favored Iowa State squad need a huge comeback in order to come away with an overtime victory against UNI.
Iowa spent most of the second half continuing to press its advantage on the boards en route to a 47-28 overall rebounding advantage. Five players totaled at least half-a-dozen rebounds on the night while not a single Bulldog could stake such a claim. The Hawkeyes not only attacked the glass, but capitalized on the extra opportunities, finishing with an impressive 29 second-chance points.
The team in black and gold also may as well have been carrying the basketball in a presidential motorcade with the way they protected it over the course of the 40 minute game. A miniscule five turnovers were all that Iowa committed, and even those rarely led to any easy fast-break points.
Another balanced scoring effort from both the starters and reserves helped to carry the Hawkeyes. Worth mentioning are two players who had their best games of the season in senior forward Melsahn Basabe (15pts and 8reb) and freshman guard Peter Jok.
Jok in particular may have found a special significance in the contest as it was being played back in his hometown. A graduate of West Des Moines Valley, the freshman reserve carried the Hawkeyes for a short stint of action in the first half with seven consecutive points. A recipient of coach Fran McCaffery’s constant urging to be aggressive, Jok finished with 14 points and added a career high seven rebounds on the night.
After the back-and-forth first half, the Hawkeyes were never seriously threatened in the closing 20 minutes of action as they quickly extended the nine point lead at intermission into double digits and eventually as high as 23.
Of concern for Iowa would be its defense of the three point line, a usual area of strength. Upcoming opponents, especially Iowa State, will try to exploit the arc due to the difficulty of scoring over Iowa’s size and length on the interior. The Hawkeyes also didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter, although a cold shooting night may have been due after the recent hot streak Iowa shooters have been on.
Outside of those two areas Iowa continued its aggressive-but-smart style of play, making over twice as many free throws as their opponent attempted and committing only 15 total fouls.
The Hawkeyes (9-1) will try to push their win total into double figures on Monday night at home against Farleigh Dickinson before setting out for the monster road matchup with Iowa State four days later.