DES MOINES, Iowa — Adam Koch scored 12 points and No. 19 Northern Iowa clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley title by beating Drake 57-48 on Wednesday night.
Ali Farokhmanesh and Johnny Moran each added 10 for the Panthers (22-2, 13-1), who can lock up the top seed for next month's conference tournament with a win at Bradley on Saturday.
Northern Iowa fell behind by 3 with 6:36 left before putting the game out of a reach with a 15-0 run. Farokhmanesh keyed the spurt with two long 3s, and Lucas O'Rear's layup with 2:02 left put the Bulldogs ahead 55-45.
Ryan Wedel and Josh Young each had 11 to lead Drake (11-15, 6-8), which lost at home for the first time in five games and fell to 0-9 when trailing at halftime.
The young Bulldogs gave the Valley's best team their best shot, but the more experienced Panthers made all the big plays down the stretch in winning their sixth straight game.
Seth VanDeest, Drake's rail-thin freshman center, stuffed Northern Iowa 7-footer Jordan Eglseder's layup try with both hands, then hit a turnaround jumper on the other end to bring the Bulldogs within 36-34 with 12:07 left. Wedel followed with a 3 that put the Bulldogs ahead for the first time since the opening minutes.
Northern Iowa's Johnny Moran's 3 made it 42-42 with 8:01 to go, though, and Koch's 3 put the Panthers ahead 47-45.
O'Rear, Northern Iowa's sparkplug forward, then drew a charge on VanDeest, and Farokhmanesh buried a 3 from nearly 30 feet out to push Northern Iowa's lead to 50-45 with 4:24 left.
Farokhmanesh added another long 3 and O'Rear sealed it with an easy basket off an alley-oop pass.
Drake was outscored 26-6 in the paint, 22-2 on second-chance points and had just one field goal in the final 6:36 — a meaningless 3 with 23 seconds left.
The Panthers didn't hit a 3 in the first half, but they shot 12 of 17 inside the arc in building a 28-24 halftime lead. Northern Iowa outscored Drake 20-4 in the paint in the opening half — a trend that would continue after the break.
Though Northern Iowa hadn't lost since Jan. 19, its last three wins came by a total of just seven points. The Panthers needed a monster effort from Koch down the stretch to escape with a 55-52 home win over Southern Illinois on Saturday, as Koch scored 11 straight points to help wipe out a five-point deficit.
Drake was in Northern Iowa's position just two years ago, rolling toward the Valley crown and an eventual No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. But second-year coach Mark Phelps has 11 first-year players, the most in the Valley, and it's shown in Drake's up-and-down play. The Bulldogs have lost four of their past five after a five-game winning streak.