CEDAR FALLS — Another lackluster offensive performance sunk Northern Iowa, which still searching for its first conference win after falling to Loyola, 56-50 Sunday afternoon.
A field goal drought over nine minutes long in the first half prevented the Panthers (8-8, 0-4) from ever extending their lead beyond five. Bennett Koch and Tywhon Pickford — who led all scorers with 17 and 15 points respectively — combined for 17 of 26 first-half points. For the third time in four conference games, UNI took a lead, albeit a small one at 26-23, into halftime.
“In the first half I thought we had a great chance to get out to a nice lead,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “Because we were able to move that ball into (Bennett), he was able to find guys and we were open. Had a chance to get two, three, four more 3s in that first half which would have given us a 35, 36-point half, which would have felt like an 80-point half the way we’re playing at the offense end”
Koch and Pickford continued to lead UNI’s offense in the second half, scoring eight and seven respectively over the last 20 minutes, however only four Panthers had scored until Klint Carlson’s hook shot with 6:49 put the Panthers up by two at 43-41. UNI and Loyola (12-4, 2-2) traded baskets up until a 7-0 Ramblers run after the four-minute media timeout. Ben Richardson sandwiched one of his three 3s in the game between four Cameron Krutwig free throws to make it 52-48 Ramblers with just over two minutes to play.
“They made three or four important 3s that were guarded,” Jacobson said. “Custer, Richardson and Ingram, they’ve been around, so they’ve made those plays before. We just didn’t make the plays to finish off and get some points out of those (late) possessions.”
Trailing by two after Wyatt Lohaus’ jump-shot over Clayton Custer — who returned to the Loyola starting lineup after missing the previous five games with an injury — UNI’s defense kept a driving Custer from scoring. On their next possession, Koch’s pass for a back-cutting Tywhon Pickford went off a Ramblers foot — according to Koch postgame — and the Panthers were forced to foul Donte Ingram who made 1 of 2 free throws to extend Loyola’s lead to 54-50. Haldeman, Lohaus and McCloud all missed late shot attempts that would have brought UNI back within one possession and Lucas Williamson’s free throw with nine seconds left made it 56-50, leaving the Panthers as the Missouri Valley Conference’s only winless team.
“You can look at it a bunch of different ways,” senior center Bennett Koch said of their six-game losing streak. “It’s just going to take one game where I feel like we’re just going to hit everything and then it’s just going to come together after that. Nobody likes to lose. After this game we’ve got to figure this is just one game. We’ve got to pay attention to the next game, Indiana State.”