CEDAR FALLS – It took 12 seconds for two Northern Iowa streaks to continue Wednesday night. The Panthers won the tip and threw it ahead to a wide open Marc Sonnen on the right wing. Without hesitation the senior pulled the trigger and drained a 3-pointer for the 18th straight game. As a team, the streak goes back even further, much further; like 401 games further.
“Let’s knock on wood,” said senior Jake Koch after knocking on the table he sat at. “We don’t want to break that streak.”
Northern Iowa might as well worry about the Mayan’s prophecy of the world coming to an end in 15 days, rather than that streak ending against Northern Colorado. Northern Iowa had seven players combine for 12 3-pointers as it shot by the Bears 76-59.
“We’ve got a lot of playmakers. Of course, in high school everyone is the leading scorer or the go to guy on the team,” Koch said. “Then they come here and it just takes a while just to make that change, but I think that’s what’s great about this team. We adapted quickly. No one’s really hunting their shot.”
The Bears’ defense acted as target practice for the Panthers, who hit the bull’s-eye more often than not. Northern Iowa shot 51.9 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from deep. The Panthers began the game with a sharpshooter’s mentality, making 10 of their first 15 shots. From deep, UNI made 6 of its first 8 attempts for a video-game like 75 percent from deep. Four players contributed to the six 3s.
“We know when somebody’s hot and somebody’s feeling it, look for them to get the ball,” Sonnen said.
The fifth and sixth 3s came out of the hands of Matt Bohannon on back to back trips. Deon Mitchell drained the third 3 of the game, crossing up his defender before stepping back to make is his first shot of the game.
Mitchell finished with eight points and three assists in his return after missing Saturday’s game with a bone bruise left leg. Koch led the team with 17, stuffing the stat sheet with seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
Three of Koch’s 17 came from beyond the arc. Six more came via and-1 opportunities. The Panthers had four in all. Combine those opportunities with the 3-ball and UNI totaled 48 of its 76 points via 3-point plays.
“In making those jump shots, you’ve got an opportunity to get more stuff around the basket,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “Because they’re going to feel like they have to come ever farther.”
The early 3-point flurry allowed the Panthers to build a 21 point cushion in only 9:14 of game time. The lead melted to 11 at half though.
“It was 27 to 6, at that point, you’d like to keep it above 15, for sure at halftime” Jacobson said. “Keep it at least three or four possessions away from a 10 point game.”
Northern Colorado managed to cut the cushion to nine with back-to-back 3s of its own. But Northern Iowa undoubtedly had more.
Mitchell got to the hoop and created a 3-point play with a basket and a foul. Cedar Rapids Kennedy grad, Max Martino, then drilled a 3, followed by Seth Tuttle creating an and-1 situation. The nine-point lead blossomed back to 16, and never fell below 14 after that mini-run.
“I think we had stretches tonight, three minutes, five minutes, seven minutes, there were stretches, that that would have been as good as we’ve played all year,” Jacobson said.
The offensive effort ranked statistically the best of the season against a Division I school. Northern Iowa had its best shooting percentage from deep and overall Wednesday night. UNI also totaled the most points in regulation this season, to go with the most made field goals, made 3s, and assists against any D-I opponent.
The performance comes at a perfect time, preceding the Panthers’ first true road test of the year against George Mason.
“I always take life, one day at a time,” Sonnen said. “So now that this game is over, I think we can more get our focus on George Mason and see what type of team they are.”They’ll also get a feel for what type of team they are. George Mason enters the matchup at 6-3. A win in the nation’s capital, would be the team’s first against a team with a winning record.