CEDAR FALLS — Time is running out for Northern Iowa men’s basketball.
With five regular season Missouri Valley games remaining, the Panthers (12-13, 4-9 MVC) likely need to win out to avoid playing on Thursday night at the MVC Tournament. That would be the first such occurrence in head coach Ben Jacobson’s 12-year career if it happens.
Despite what could lie ahead, coaches and players are unsurprisingly sticking to their one-game-at-a-time approach. After Wednesday’s win over fourth-place Bradley, it appears a proverbial corner of some degree may have been turned.
After a disappointing home loss to Indiana State last week, Jacobson called himself out for not holding players accountable enough in practices. After Wednesday’s much-needed win, then having the opportunity to go back and watch the game film, Jacobson saw a level of defensive physicality against the Braves that he says will be important to maintain down the stretch.
“Sometimes you think things went a certain way before you watched the film, but when I talked about our team being more physical and having more of a presence defensively, and when I watched the film it was the same as what I thought it was during the game,” Jacobson said. “That was different against Bradley. We fouled them quite a bit more than what we had, but at the same time as we head into the game Saturday — with where we’re at in the season — we have to learn how to do both. We have to be a more physical team defensively, and we’ve got to be able to do that without fouling a lot.”
UNI fouled Bradley 24 times in the 74-65 win, but Wyatt Lohaus and Bennett Koch both made mention during their postgame interviews Wednesday of how sharp practices were leading up to the Bradley win. However, their next opponent, Drake (13-13, 7-6), offers one of the MVC’s most unique challenges with its four-guard lineup led by Reed Timmer (18.5 points per game).
“In our (last) game — and it’s been a part of a lot of their games — that when we got down early (it) was their transition offense,” Jacobson said. “Because they’ve got four perimeter players they can get it out to anybody.”
The Panthers won their first matchup with Drake, 68-54 on Jan. 16. Extending their seven-game winning streak against the Bulldogs will require their newfound defensive physicality to follow them to Des Moines, along with the scoring punch that they’ve lacked in all six of their conference road games (54.0 points per game on the road in MVC play).
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“It felt like for the first time everybody had a comfort level (against Bradley),” Jacobson said. “I think that can really help us as we get ready for Saturday and as we head through February. Usually that happens earlier in the season, but for a number of different reasons — some outside of our control, some within our control — we just haven’t got there yet. That doesn’t mean it’s too late to get there.”