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CEDAR FALLS — They’ve officially dug themselves out of a hole again. It’s just what the Northern Iowa Panthers do.
A 64-61 escape Wednesday night of Bradley at McLeod Center was UNI’s fourth win in a row and its ninth in 10 games.
That 0-5 start to the Missouri Valley Conference season? Yeah, forget that.
This is so eerily similar to last season, when Northern Iowa began MVC play with a 2-6 record, only to go 9-1 the rest of the way in the regular season, win the MVC tournament and a NCAA game. Check that, because eerily has a negative connotation.
Make that cheerily similar to last season.
“This is the way we expected we were going to play in the beginning,” said UNI’s Jeremy Morgan. “It just took us a little bit. When you have young guys, that can happen sometimes. We’re playing good now, so that’s all that matters.”
They’re playing really well, seemingly a nice time to test themselves with a road game Saturday at mighty Wichita State. The Shockers are tied atop the MVC standings at 13-1 with Illinois State, which UNI hosts next week to end the regular season.
A road game at Indiana State is in between. Northern Iowa (14-12, 9-6) has a solid hold on third place in the league.
“This is their senior year,” UNI’s Bennett Koch said, referring to Morgan and Jordan Ashton. “No senior wants to have a year where you have a stretch like that, like we did. It just goes to show how much love they have for the game and how much they want to do well, (and) to push us, the team to get back on track. I’ve just got to give it up to the seniors and the upperclassmen.”
Bradley (9-19, 4-11) put up a heck of a fight here, leading by three at halftime and rallying from 12 down midway through the second half. The Braves had the ball and a chance to tie or go ahead with a minute and a half left, but UNI’s Juwan McCloud intercepted a pass in transition.
It was a 63-61 game with 13.2 seconds left. UNI’s Spencer Haldeman missed the front half of a one-and-one, but Bradley fumbled the rebound out of bounds.
Koch made one of two free throws for a three-point lead with 9 seconds left. Bradley’s Darrell Brown Jr. came down and had a good look at a tying 3-pointer just before the buzzer but it hit short off the front rim.
UNI won despite being outrebounded by 12 and not having a field goal in the final 6:48. Morgan and Koch led the way with 18 points apiece.
“We’ll have to look at the execution there on what we did on offense (late),” said UNI Coach Ben Jacobson. “Obviously we struggled to get (points). I think a couple of times we had decent looks at the basket, but there were too many possessions where we didn’t ... After stretching it out to double figures, you’ve got to give Bradley a lot of credit for fighting that hard defensively.”
“They fought and kept it close,” Koch said. “But it doesn’t matter. We won.”
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