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Hawkeyes face difficult Drake

IOWA CITY – It’s the last chance for the Iowa basketball team to get a win over an in-state rival.

At this point, the Hawkeyes would take any victory over any opponent.

Iowa has lost five of its last seven games heading into today’s 8 p.m. game against Drake at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and with Big Ten play looming, the Hawkeyes would like to get a little momentum.

“We want to get on a little winning streak, get going again,” sophomore forward Melsahn Basabe said.

“We want to get out here and get a win,” junior forward Eric May said. “We want to get some momentum back.”

The Hawkeyes (5-5) opened the season with three victories, but since then have struggled. Their five losses have been by an average of 17 points.

Tonight’s game starts a stretch of three home games in six days for the Hawkeyes to close the nonconference portion of their schedule.

“We need to string some wins together,” Basabe said.

But Drake (6-3) is far from an easy opponent. The Bulldogs already have one in-state win, having defeated Iowa State 74-65 in the second game of the season, and have won their last two games.

“They present a difficult challenge,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s a tough team to prepare for.”

The Bulldogs’ inside-outside combination of forward Ben Simons and guard Rayvonte Rice will challenge an Iowa defense that hasn’t been able to stop anyone lately. Opponents have shot .465 against the Hawkeyes and have made an average of seven 3-point goals per game.

Simons, a 6-foot-8 junior, shoots 49 percent from the field and makes almost 91 percent of his free-throw attempts. He has scored in double figures in every game this season, and leads the team with 25 3-pointers.

“Obviously, Simons is playing like a star,” McCaffery said. “This year, he is a focal point for teams trying to prepare for Drake.”

Rice has been helped by the emergence of redshirt freshman guard Karl Madison. Those two, along with Kurt Alexander off the bench, will test Iowa’s backcourt.

“You’ve got two really good point guards (Rice and Madison) who play together, and Alexander gives them another weapon,” McCaffery said. “They’ve got a lot of pieces, and any team like that is tough to beat.”

“We have to go in there with a lot of focus, because this is going to be a tough game,” May said.

The Hawkeyes could be back to full strength if point guard Bryce Cartwright returns.

Cartwright missed last week’s game against Northern Iowa and played just six minutes against Iowa State as he recovers from a hamstring injury.

If anything, the Hawkeyes need to get their confidence back.

“Everybody’s been getting after it,” May said. “We’re getting to where we need to be.”

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