Iowa State Cyclones forward Nyamer Diew (5) and Drake Bulldogs forward Courtney Becker (32) battle for a loose ball during the first quarter at Knapp Center on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
DES MOINES — Iowa State failed to make a field goal in the second quarter. Drake used a stunning 19-0 run to lead by as many as 20 points in the same span, but somehow, the Cyclones clawed back to lead, 67-65, on Isnelle Natabou’s layup with 5:16 remaining Sunday afternoon at the Knapp Center.
The tension spiked. The crowd grew restless. And the Bulldogs responded by closing the game with a 20-6 flourish to outlast ISU, 85-73, before a spirited crowd of 4,203.
“I think it helps that we’re a little older,” said Drake’s Grace Berg, a sixth-year senior who scored 22 points and went 4-for-8 from 3-point range. “We’ve been around a little bit.”
No kidding. The Bulldogs’ starting lineup consisted of Berg, two other seniors and a pair of juniors. The Cyclones’ starters included two seniors, one junior and two freshmen — but four of ISU’s starting five are new to head coach Bill Fennelly’s program.
“This is our first experience of many of understanding the other team is older, stronger (and) more mature in a lot of ways,” said Fennelly, whose team fell to 1-1. “So we’ve gotta get through that.”
Freshman center Audi Crooks scored a career-high 23 points to lead the Cyclones, who drilled 5 of their 8 3-point attempts in the third quarter to get back in the game. Senior transfer guard Hannah Belanger added 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc as ISU saw a modest two-game win streak in the intra-state series snapped.
Drake senior Taylor McAulay struck for a career-high 27 points while sinking six of her nine 3-point tries to help her team improve to 3-0 this season.
“I think there was a little bit of a chip on our shoulder that not only was it at home, but we hadn’t beat them in a while,” McAulay said. “I just think there was a little bit of an extra edge today.”
The Bulldogs built a 38-20 half-time lead by dominating the second quarter. ISU went 0-for-9 from the field in that 10-minute timeframe and committed seven turnovers.
But a determined Cyclone team took the floor to start the second half and within four minutes they’d drawn within nine, at 43-34, on Belanger’s second 3-pointer of the game. A little more three minutes later, ISU pulled within two, at 47-45, on senior forward Nyamer Drew’s 3-pointer and the game would remain close until Drake’s win-sealing splurge in the final minutes.
“When we play the right way, like we did in the third quarter, things click,” Belanger said. “We’re really a good team. More than what people think. But I think it’s consistency that we’re working on and obviously having eight days off, that’s something we’re definitely gonna be working on.”
That’s the mark of an extremely young team. The Cyclones will likely run hot and cold frequently as they build experience this season. Fennelly said that’s to be expected and he’s pleased with his team’s gritty approach to the game.
“It’s hard to lose but I have zero issue with our effort and zero issue with our commitment,” he said. “I think it’s more a tribute to Drake. That’s a really good team. We’re not the only ones that they’re gonna beat in this building. I promise you that.”